This past week state and federal officials raided more than a dozen Colorado cannabis dispensaries and greenhouses and two homes. The agents, including officers from both the DEA and the IRS, had obtained warrants for 10 individuals connected with the raided properties. The Denver Post obtained a copy of the search warrant that allowed the agents to seize “everything from pot plants and cash to financial records, safes and computer flash drives”. No arrests were made during the sweep that took place over the course of several hours on Thursday.
An attorney for one of the individuals cited in the warrant, Laszlo Bagi the owner of Swiss Medical in Boulder, said that the agents seized $1 million worth of plants from his client’s facility and that the agents left no “instructions saying don’t replant. There was no court order of cease and desist. No explanation,” adding that his client adheres to Colorado’s state laws regarding cannabis sale and cultivation.
Also named in the warrant are Luis Uribe, Carlos Solano, Gerardo Uribe-Christancho, David Furtado, Juan Guardarrama, Carlos Solano-Bocanegro, Jared Bringhurst, Felix Perez, John Frank Esmeral and Joseph Tavares.
At the time of the raids on Thursday, which took place a short six weeks before the historic Colorado law legalizing the recreational use of cannabis by adults will allow the commercial sale of the substance for the first time in the nation, with no additional context, some cannabis advocates cautiously questioned the motives of DEA as reported in articles such as the Huffington Post’s report on the raids titled, “Colorado Medical Marijuana Raids Show Industry Still Risky“.
The Denver Post dug deeper and on Friday reported that the, “Colorado marijuana businesses raided this week by federal agents are being investigated for a possible connection to Colombian drug cartels,” and that the targets of the warrants have been “actively purchasing area dispensaries and grow warehouses over a sustained period of time.”
The Post reports that the raids were based upon allegations of “trafficking marijuana outside of states where it has been legalized, money laundering and providing revenue for criminal enterprises, including gangs and cartels.” One of the subjects of the search warrant, Juan Guardarrama, was recently convicted of racketeering in a case that involved Colombian and Cuban gangs in Miami selling diamonds stolen from gem dealers. During the investigation that resulted in his arrest, Guardarrama reportedly asked under cover agents to help him traffic legally grown Coloradan cannabis in Miami and “take out” a Coloradan business partner.
The state-federal action has been lauded by both supporters and critics of cannabis legalization. Law enforcement officials pointed out to the Post that the agents were doing their job, and Andy Williams, a Denver cannabis dispensary owner and a member of the local Medical Marijuana Industry Group confided, “I want the bad actors gone, quite honestly.”
The entire incident serves also to deftly exemplify the fatal flaws of cannabis prohibition, especially in the new world created by the citizens’ initiatives in both Washington and Colorado and where broad and sustained majorities of American adults approve of ending cannabis prohibition.
What we saw this week and what all parties agreed was the most appropriate course of action was, a daylight police raid with its attendant dangers, pulled off in several locations including at a home in a toney suburban subdivision (a mile from Denver Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning’s home). Where alleged international gang members’ properties and possessions were confiscated, although no arrests were made. Where the confiscated property belongs to individuals who had multiple business locations and, in the case of two of the suspects, had received approval to invest $6 million to build a cannabis grow house in Pueblo County to help boost to economic development. Where the legal product of other cannabis distributors was destroyed by state and federal officials (many distributors rent growing facilities that are shared by other distributors- as was the case in this raid). Where the crazy quilt of local townships’ desires to increase economic growth, local and state regulations covering everything from simple city licensing and state registration requirements to state and federal criminal statutes and as always with the inextinguishable human impulse to “maximize profits” (in a manner of speaking) in this world of commerce can, really, only lead to 26 year-old Columbian gang members buying $1.5 million homes in a suburb near you (should you live in one of the two visionary and courageous states that have legalized consumption of the benign and medically important natural and easy to grow substance, cannabis).
The director of the federal law enforcement program called the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Tom Gorman, told the Post “I have said it before and I’ll say it again — you cannot regulate this illegal industry. You can’t any time you talk about money and profits, and dealing with a customer base and selling product. There are too many loopholes, too many ways to get around it. You just can’t do it.”
Smedley Butler’s formulation interestingly holds true in this “war on drugs” military engagement: “There is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by…conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys…Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.”
Photo by Brett Neilson, used under Creative Commons license