COLORADO, USA — An investigation into black-market marijuana cultivation has culminated in 42 arrests and the confiscation of tens of thousands of pot plants and more than $2.1 million in cash. 

U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, DEA Denver Division Special Agent in Charge William T. McDermott, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler and 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young made the announcement during a Friday morning news conference. 

"We're here to announce the largest marijuana drug enforcement action in the history of Colorado," Dunn said.

They said the following was seized after more than 250 locations were searched over the course of two years:

  • 80,000 marijuana plants 
  • 4,500 pounds of finished marijuana product
  • 41 homes
  • $2,160,776.89 in U.S. currency
  • 25 vehicles
  • Three pieces of jewelry

“Today, we realize the black market in Colorado is thriving," Young said. "I don’t think the citizens of Colorado want us to be known as the marijuana distribution hub for the Unites States, but unfortunately that’s what it is now. We’ve put a big dent in that hub today with the rest and the investigations that are ongoing.”

Brauchler said he is frustrated by the number of resources he has to put towards combating black market marijuana. He said voters sought a regulated market when they legalized the drug in 2012. 

“They did note vote for the wild west of weed," Brauchler said. "And that’s what we are becoming. And that’s what this investigation has revealed. We cannot put the genie back into the bong. This is going to be an ongoing issue for Colorado moving forward."

Sources told 9Wants to Know law enforcement officials made raids Wednesday. The investigation – which began after two outdoor marijuana grows were discovered in Adams County in 2016 – has centered on multiple “drug trafficking organizations,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained late Thursday by 9Wants to Know.

The warrant references a 2007 DEA investigation into the family of Thornton restauranteur Dan Tang, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in a case that included 24 marijuana grow operations in new homes. In that investigation, authorities seized more than 24,000 high-grade marijuana plants, $3 million in cash and $1.2 million worth of grow equipment, according to the affidavit.

After the discovery of the outdoor grow operations in Adams County in 2016, the DEA began identifying people tied to the 2007 investigation and others.

On Aug. 9, 2018, authorities executed 84 search warrants that led to the seizure of 12,000 marijuana plants, 900 pounds of finished marijuana packaged for sale, and $945,000 in cash. After that and subsequent searches on Oct. 10, 2018, and Jan. 31 and May 22 of this year, authorities had confiscated 66,000 marijuana plants and 4,500 pounds of finished weed.

In all, they executed 255 search warrants, according to an affidavit obtained late Thursday by 9Wants to Know.

This map shows the location of 25 of the 255 search warrants that were executed. Graphic created by: Zack Newman.

Law enforcement officials credit cooperation between federal, state and local partners for the success of the investigation. 

“Those who traffic in marijuana, or any other illicit substance in the state of Colorado, it’s not if it’s when you will be prosecuted," McDermott said.

He said most of the marijuana seized was destined to sell out of the state.

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