Scores of agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and local police agencies fanned out early Thursday morning in a coordinated raid of up to 50 suspected black-market marijuana grow houses in the Denver metro area, authorities say.
Dozens of search warrants have been served to homeowners and residents across the metro area, said Randy Ladd, spokesman for the DEA’s Denver field office.
This is the third large-scale, coordinated raid in five months on black-market grow houses. Ladd said the grow operations have ties to organized crime syndicates on the East Coast.
Colorado is a prime location for the grow houses because, unlike other states that have legalized marijuana, it allows people to grow marijuana inside residential homes, Ladd said.
On Oct. 10, federal and local drug task force agents targeted at least 24 homes, largely in the Tollgate Crossing subdivision near Aurora’s Cherokee Trail High School. At the time, agents were seen carrying hundreds of marijuana plants outside, lining them up in neat rows across driveways and front lawns.
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler previously said all the illegal grow houses in Aurora were centered on a single criminal operation.
During the Aurora raid, Ladd said, “people don’t live in these homes. They bought them solely to run marijuana operations.”
Ladd, the DEA spokesman, alleged that black-market pot operations have brought many other illegal activities to Colorado, increasing the numbers of murders, robberies and gun sales. The drug traffickers are part of multi-drug operations that sell cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids, and heroin, he said.
Brauchler has previously said he’s seen 11 first-degree murder cases in the 17th Judicial District related to black-market marijuana transactions since the state first legalized recreational marijuana nearly five years ago. He said the high potency marijuana is diverted to other states where marijuana is illegal.
Colorado’s recreational marijuana law was passed in 2012, and retail pot sales began on Jan. 1, 2014.
Ladd said that just since 2014, law enforcement officers in Colorado have raided 300 black-market marijuana grow houses and seized 70,000 marijuana plants weighing 10,000 pounds.