Illegal drug dealers are using Colorado’s legal marijuana industry as cover for large trafficking operations, according to a report by The Associated Press in January. The traffickers are buying cannabis in stores or growing it among legal plants, then shipping it to other states at a massive profit, AP reports.
Federal authorities say many large drug traffickers have moved to Colorado in recent years, where they allegedly grow black market pot and ship it to dealers in other states. At least 20 alleged dealers have been accused of growing marijuana in Colorado and sending it to Florida, where prices for quality cannabis are more than double those in Colorado.
A man who owned a skydiving business flew hundreds of pounds of legal marijuana from Colorado to Minnesota, where it fetched millions of dollars on the street, according to AP. In another case, a man from Denver allegedly shipped more than 100 packages of pot to Upstate New York. The AP article points to these as examples of traffickers using legalization to disguise their domestic activities.
AP contradicts previous reports
Previous reports suggest legal marijuana has hurt international drug cartels, increasingly driving them out of the cannabis marketplace. But according to the AP report, these cases “confirm a longstanding fear of marijuana opponents that the state’s much-watched experiment in legal pot would invite more illegal trafficking to other states where the drug is still strictly forbidden.”
Some legal cannabis is obviously leaving Colorado. Much of it is carried by tourists bringing home less than an ounce for personal use. These users buy their drugs legally and pay taxes on them, but are still treated as criminals under federal law.
Other marijuana leaves the state in the hands of low-level dealers who pay full retail price and then resell the product back home. These people pose little threat to society, but authorities say they’re more worried about big-time traffickers who use Colorado as a grow site and then sell marijuana elsewhere.
Neighboring states suing Colorado over inter-state smuggling
Doubtless officials in neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma will jump on the report as confirmation of their beliefs. These officials have sued the State of Colorado, seeking to prevent the legal cultivation and sale of cannabis, even to Colorado residents. The Obama administration has intervened, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the lawsuit.
Other law enforcement officials quickly pointed to the report as proof trafficking has increased – even though it relies on anecdotal evidence rather than hard empirical data showing an increase in illegal distribution from Colorado.
“There’s no question there’s a lot more of this activity than there was two years ago,” said Colorado’s U.S. attorney, John Walsh.
Not everyone agrees. Advocates for legalization note that police have a long history of exaggerating problems related to marijuana, especially when it comes to cannabis crossing state lines. Nebraska and Oklahoma officials have been repeatedly accused of hyping their statistics to blow the issue out of proportion.
Still, AP’s reporting is unlikely to have much effect on the debate over marijuana reform. If anything, the conflicting information suggests legalization may have spurred some low-level trafficking – the kind of dealer who drives his own product back from Colorado – while fighting the operations of big Mexican drug cartels. In net, that may still be a good thing.