DENVER—Attorney General John Suthers has obtained a 59-count indictment against an accused multi-state ring of marijuana traffickers and a medical-marijuana dispensary, less than three months before Colorado voters will decide whether to legalize pot for adults.
The indictment, released Monday, charges 11 suspects and the Silver Lizard dispensary in Denver with violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act by moving hundreds of pounds of marijuana from Colorado to 13 states and the District of Columbia.
Suthers said the indictments were further evidence that medical marijuana from Colorado dispensaries is being diverted illegally to other states. A survey released earlier this month by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area’s investigative support center found that Colorado has increasingly become a marijuana “source state.”
“This indictment and its allegation that medical marijuana was sold out of the back door of a dispensary for distribution to other states is consistent with information gathered by a recent Rocky Mountain HIDTA survey of Colorado law enforcement agencies,” said Suthers in a statement. “It is becoming clear that, as predicted in 2010 legislative hearings, Colorado is becoming a significant exporter of marijuana to the rest of the country.”
The allegations come with Colorado on the cusp of becoming the first state to legalize marijuana use. Amendment 64, which is so far the only measure to qualify for the state’s November ballot, would regulate the cultivation, manufacture and sale of marijuana for adults 21 and over.
Colorado voters decriminalized medical-marijuana use for patients in 2000. Hundreds of dispensaries sprung up after the Justice Department indicated in 2009 that it would not interfere with patients and caregivers as long as they complied with state law.
Laura Chapin, spokeswoman for the No on 64 campaign, said the indictments illustrate how easily marijuana can fall into the wrong hands, no matter what the law may say. Suthers has also spoken out against the measure.
“[O]ne of the primary concerns about Amendment 64 is by legalizing marijuana for recreational use, including growing facilities, manufacturing operations, and retail shops in communities across the state, it increases the likelihood it will end up in places it shouldn’t–like with our kids,” said Chapin in an email.
Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, argued that criminal activity associated with marijuana would decrease if it were fully regulated, as liquor, wine and beer are.
“Individuals who have gone through the licensing process will not want to risk losing those valuable licenses–and risk going to jail–by selling illegally,” said Tvert in an email. “Today’s indictments are a warning to anyone who thinks that they can take advantage of the regulatory system. The solution to a few bad apples is not to put the entire market back into the hands of underground, criminal enterprises. The solution is to punish the bad apples and leave all of the good operators in place.”
The indictment shows that some of the marijuana was grown at private homes, but that more than 40 lbs. was obtained from Leon Cisneros, owner of the Silver Lizard, for sale on the black market in Cincinnati. Cisneros was also charged with tax evasion, filing false tax returns and lying to a state revenue officer.
Tvert said that by creating a regulated market for marijuana, Amendment 64 would “eventually lead to the elimination of the underground marijuana market in the state.”
“Law enforcement officials pretend to care about eliminating the underground market, but they have made zero progress toward that goal over the past 40 years,” he said. “It has only grown larger over time.”