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Drug task force: Marijuana on public land skyrocketed in 2017

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP November 9, 2018

With marijuana legal in Colorado, but illegal under federal law, you would think the temptation to grow the plant on public land would be relatively low. Unfortunately for Colorado’s forests and mountains, illegal cannabis growers continue to cut costs by cultivating in state and national parks and forests. And, it may be getting worse, according to representatives of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a coalition of law enforcement agencies.

In 2016, its officers located and destroyed over 45,000 marijuana plants growing on public land. Last year, it was nearly 81,000 plants — and that is 18 times higher than in 2014, the first year of full legalization of cannabis in Colorado. In fact, the number of plants seized and destroyed has grown each year since 2014.

These grow spots can cause substantial harm to the environment. For example, according to Colorado’s U.S. Attorney, a grow operation in the San Isabel National Forest contained some 5,000 pounds of trash and infrastructure, including man-made reservoirs and numerous pine-timber structures. Additionally, pesticides and other chemicals were discovered. According to the Forest Service, it took hundreds of hours of cleanup to mitigate the environmental harm.

The San Isabel National Forest — which contains many of Colorado’s highest peaks — is among the most popular grow sites on public lands, with several different grow operations discovered by federal agents. However, it is not the only public land being illegally cultivated. Other grow operations found last year included:

  • 9,100 plants on two islands in the Colorado River near DeBeque on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property
  • 2,700 growing and 3,000 harvested plants in the White River National Forest
  • 100 plants on BLM land near Whitewater

A federal crackdown has been announced

In August, Colorado’s U.S. Attorney announced the results of a number of 2017 prosecutions and gave notice that federal and local law enforcement are preparing to crack down on this year’s harvest.

Last year’s defendants were convicted of federal crimes such as conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, and land depredation. Several were sentenced to up to five years in prison.

“Public lands are just that – they’re public and belong to all of us,” said the U.S. Attorney. “These black marketers abuse our land, our water, our animals and plants. With these prosecutions we motivate black marketers to make less harmful occupational choices.”

If you are arrested for involvement in marijuana cultivation on public land, you could be facing either a state or federal crime. Protect your rights by contacting an experienced attorney right away.