Colorado, marijuana’s black market hub
It sounded logical. Legalizing pot might destroy the drug’s black market.
All frontline indicators point in the opposite direction, as the legal market provides camouflage for foreign cartels and illegal grows in homes and warehouses throughout the state.
Pro-legalization politicians double down, without regard for what law enforcement reports. Gov. John Hickenlooper said recently the black market is shrinking and “will be largely gone” in a few years. We have sought and await more explanation.
The National Forest Service reports on cartels running hundreds of pot plantations throughout Colorado’s mountains, in unprecedented volume.
City and county officials report hundreds of illegal grows throughout Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
Other black market pot activity operates in plain view, every day.
A Feb. 24 Gazette expose by Tom Roeder examined a thriving storefront pot market in downtown Trinidad, just north of New Mexico’s border, that sells mostly to buyers who transport the products out of state.
“Your legal market is still our black market,” explained Ryan Spohn, who heads the Center for Justice Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Trinidad, population 8,100, sells pot at 15 times the rate of famously pot-friendly Boulder County — home to 320,000 residents, but far from Colorado’s borders.
Trinidad’s shops sell $300 worth of marijuana for each of the 55,000 people living in the city and surrounding La Plata County.
Colorado allows a retailer to sell each customer up to 1 ounce of pot. In Trinidad, Roeder observed buyers with out-of-state plates going store to store, buying an ounce at each stop. An ounce that costs $99 at a Colorado store sells for up to $350 across the state line in Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming and other states.
For a lone entrepreneur willing to break the law, this business model is simple: Travel, purchase, turnaround, markup, and sell.
A Washington State University study found marijuana arrests, coinciding with legalization, are up by a third in states that border Colorado.
Pot sales generated $2.8 million in marijuana sales taxes for Trinidad in 2017. Pot taxes and licensing fees totaled $247 million statewide in 2017.
Trinidad is not the only community making big money selling pot to out-of-state dealers and users. It happens all over Colorado, with cities and towns closest to state borders selling marijuana at rates dramatically disproportionate with their populations.
Voters and elected leaders of neighboring states don’t want our growing number of traffic fatalities involving drivers under the influence of pot. They don’t want classrooms full of stoned kids, who obtain marijuana like it is gum.
They don’t want more children rushed to emergency rooms after overdosing on THC. They don’t want lowered IQs and other brain-related problems associated with young people consuming THC in high doses.
In the view of nearby states, Colorado is the dope-peddling menace down the street, getting rich off a Schedule 1 narcotic because other states obey federal law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could bring it to a halt.
“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” Sessions said in a statement, after rescinding the Obama administration’s nuanced and cautious nod to state legalization.
There is a reason federal law doesn’t allow pot to cross state lines. States have rights not to suffer from a neighbor’s poor judgment. Colorado should enjoy the money while it lasts. If bordering states get their way, our drug-dealing days won’t last long.
The Gazette editorial board
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