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Federal law enforcement suspects cartel involvement in marijuana business

9:42 PM, Feb 13, 2014   |    comments
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DENVER - An ongoing federal drug investigation is raising serious questions about the Colorado marijuana industry.

Widespread raids in November targeted more than a dozen marijuana businesses and grow operations. Agents believe drug cartels are coming to our state and using the front of legal marijuana to make money illegally.

On November 21, 2013, the largest federal raids ever on medical marijuana in Colorado targeted dispensaries, warehouses, and homes. Federal investigators tell 9Wants to Know, they're gathering evidence to prove Colombian drug cartels are operating in Colorado.

Tom Gorman is director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is connected to the White House National Office of Drug Control Policy.

Gorman's team put out a report in August showing a 407 percent increase in marijuana smuggling busts since 2005, before medical marijuana was legal in Colorado.

Most of the pot was coming from Denver, Boulder, and El Paso counties. It was being smuggled primarily to Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida, and Nebraska.

Gorman says marijuana is often sold for twice as much on the black market in states where it is not legal.

"You have a very desirable product with 48 other states that are potential customers. My God! What a market that is," Gorman said. "Our intelligence tells us, and all indications are, [drug cartels] are going to move in if they haven't already."

Gorman says any cartel activity in Colorado creates huge potential problems for police and citizens.

"[Cartels are] treacherous and they have no sense of morality," Gorman said.

Drug-related violence has killed tens of thousands of people in Mexico in the last decade, but Gorman says we won't see that level of violence. He says cartels will keep a lower profile in Colorado, and avoid drawing any attention to their activities.

Meg Collins is executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, which advocates for the marijuana industry.

Collins points to safeguards in place in Colorado to prevent drug trafficking, like seed to sale tracking, and says the increase in marijuana smuggling busts is a good thing.

"I think it shows vigilance by law enforcement," Collins said

Collins says a change in federal law, could eliminate the black market altogether.

"I mean if you legalize [marijuana] in every state in the country, then you're not going to see people transshipping across borders because it's legal. You can get it anywhere in your state," Collins said.

Legalizing marijuana at the federal level would require action by Congress.

"We have 21 states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana. And that momentum is building and continuing to grow," Collins said.

Three months after the federal pot raids, none of the ten target subjects have been arrested and the feds will only say their investigation is "ongoing."

9Wants to Know is digging deeper into the issue of medical marijuana and suspected cartel connections.

A Denver attorney targeted by those pot raids in November is breaking his silence, answering our questions about his role in an ongoing federal drug probe.

The investigation continues Sunday on 9NEWS at 5.

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