Six Illegal Pot Grows Raided, 32 Busted in "Wave of Illicit Marijuana Cultivation"

Earlier this week, we told you about the arrest of ten foreign nationals after law enforcers found two illegal marijuana grows on federal land along Colorado's Western Slope.

Now, the U.S. Attorney's Office reveals that these busts were two of six grows taken down on federal or private land in just the past month-and-a-half — an average of one per week.

Total arrests in the assorted operations: 32.

The office cites a "wave of illicit marijuana cultivation" and stresses that the actions of the U.S. Attorney's Office, completed in conjunction with local and state agencies, are in keeping with the directives contained in what's known as the Cole memo.

In that August 2013 document, which we've included below, assistant attorney general James Cole confirmed that federal agencies would allow legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, as sanctioned by the passage of Amendment 64 the previous years. However, the feds would continue other marijuana enforcement, focused on the following five areas:
• Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
• Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
• Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
• Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
The breakup of illegal grows on federal land hasn't resulted in an outcry from the marijuana industry. Indeed, legal ganjapreneurs no doubt cheer such operations, since they remove black market marijuana from the pipeline, thereby providing less competition for cannabis grown properly under Colorado law.

Don't be surprised if we hear about more raids against illegal grows on federal land. In a statement, U.S. Attorney John Walsh says, “These joint federal-state law enforcement actions against large illicit marijuana grows represent a new phase in the challenges facing law enforcement after Colorado’s legalization and regulation of marijuana under state law. Illegal activity of this kind underscores the need for strong, joint law enforcement efforts by federal and state authorities to identify, cut off and destroy the efforts of drug trafficking organizations to use Colorado as a ‘source state’ for export of illegal marijuana around the country. State and local authorities deserve our appreciation and support for their efforts on the ground to team up with federal authorities on this critically important effort to keep Colorado safe.”

Look below to see U.S. Attorney's Office photos and descriptions of each raid, including the two we noted earlier this week, followed by the Cole memo.

Pike National Forest, August 19th, in the Green Mountain Area in Jefferson County, investigation is ongoing.

Law Enforcement Officers from the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado National Guard Joint Counter Drug Task Force joined together to complete an eradication of an illegal marijuana grow site in the Pike National Forest. The eradication team collected more than 3,900 plants and over 3,000 pounds of irrigation pipe, pesticides, flammable liquids, camping gear and trash.

Routt National Forest, August 28th, Buffalo Pass Area in Routt County, 2 arrested.

Law Enforcement Officers from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Routt County Sheriff’s Office joined together to eradicate an illegal marijuana grow site located in the Buffalo Pass area, northeast of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The eradication team collected approximately 1,000 plants and removed camping gear from the site. Further, a handgun was found. Additional site clean-up of trash and other items will be ongoing by the U.S. Forest Service. Two Mexican Nationals in the country illegally were arrested.

 Private Land, September 1st, Cotopaxi and Westcliffe in Freemont and Custer County, 20 people arrested.

A DEA-led task force executed 8 search warrants in Cotopaxi and Westcliffe as part of a major drug trafficking organization investigation. Agents and officers found well over 1,000 marijuana plants, 50 pounds of dried marijuana, 28 firearms, and $25,000 in cash. The investigation and seizures resulted ultimately in the arrest of 20 individuals, many from Cuba, acting in an organized manner. Those arrested were growing the marijuana in Cotopaxi and Westcliffe, and then either driving or using UPS to send the marijuana to Florida.

San Isabel National Forest, September 7th, Cordova Pass Area northwest of Trinidad in Huerfano County, 2 arrested.

Hunters discovered an illegal marijuana grow site located in the Cordova Pass area approximately 40 miles northwest of Trinidad. The eradication team collected more than 11,700 plants as well as irrigation pipe, pesticides, flammable liquids, camping gear and trash. The U.S. Forest Service and Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office are working together to identify the individuals. The cultivation site spread across 10 acres with some of the growing areas above 10,000 feet in elevation. The overall grow area included a kitchen structure, three sleeping areas, and a rifle. Two men were arrested at one of the camp sites within the cultivation area.

Bureau of Land Management Land, September 15th, along the Dolores River corridor between Gateway and Naturita in Montrose County, 4 arrested.

BLM Rangers discovered more than 1,200 fully mature marijuana plants, many exceeding six-feet-tall, along with 211 kilograms of dried marijuana and a rifle. Because of the size of the operation, officers spent two and a half days eradicating and removing the plants. The rangers arrested four Mexican nationals who were on-scene and believed to be working the grow site.

Bureau of Land Management Land, September 30th, also along the Dolores River corridor between Gateway and Naturita in Montrose County, 6 arrested.

Law enforcement officers identified a marijuana grow site, also along the Dolores River. Evidence of at least a thousand marijuana plants appeared recently harvested with approximately 69.6 kilograms of processed marijuana still on site. The rangers arrested one Honduran and five Mexican nationals at or near the site.

Justice Department Memo: Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts