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Operation Fortune Cookie and medical marijuana: How are the two connected?

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Operation Fortune Cookie began with the state's largest weed bust -- 24,000 marijuana plants in 25 north metro homes -- but imploded among suspicions of snitches, paid-off politicians and secret investigations. The latest twist? A court filing suggests Thornton Commander Dante Carbone may have been the prime suspect in the leak that sabotaged the drug investigation. Heady stuff -- but was there any connection to medical marijuana?

Jeff Sweetin, former head of the Rocky Mountain DEA, believed there was. In a January 2009 Westword interview, Sweetin said he believed the operation purposely focused on Colorado to take advantage of medical-marijuana laws.

On the surface, the evidence suggests otherwise. The massive drug ring launched in 2007 and was busted up before the state's medical marijuana deluge in 2009. While a few dispensaries were up and running during the grow ring's operation, there doesn't seem to have been much connection. Among 7,000 pages of internal investigation documents obtained by Westword, there's little mention of MMJ at all. While some of the drug-ring leaders allegedly told underlings that their grow operations were legal because of medical-marijuana laws (one suspect reportedly even sold fake "medical-marijuana licenses" to others in the group), there's little, if any, proof the weed actually went to dispensaries or patients.

Still, there may be subtler ties between Operation Fortune Cookie and the medical marijuana explosion that would follow. All indications suggested law-enforcement agents were prepared to make a headline-grabbing splash with their record-breaking bust -- press conferences, dramatic video, piles of confiscated weed. The investigation even scored a special award from the country's drug czar. But when the operation started to collapse into recriminations and acrimony, the authorities circled the wagon and everybody went mum. No big press events, no headlines about marijuana wreaking havoc in the suburbs.

Who knows: Maybe such a media event would have shifted people's opinion of pot, leading to stricter MMJ regulations or a backlash against the dispensaries soon popping up. Then again, maybe not. Either way, it's interesting to note what a difference a few years can make. In 2008, 24,000 pot plants in the Denver suburbs was mind-blowing discovery. Today, there's all that and more in our state-sanctioned marijuana supply chain.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Rep. Cindy Acree says MMJ edibles ban needed to protect children, patients."

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