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Denver Police Claim Black Market Cannabis Grows Have Exploded Under Legalization

With harvest season in full swing, cops in Colorado’s capital say “organized criminal enterprises” are moving legal weed out of state.

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Lead photo via Flickr user Word Cat

Colorado police officers tasked with curbing Denver's black market marijuana grows want help. Responsible for sniffing out as much unsanctioned bud as possible in order to slow illegal out-of-state exports, D.P.D.’s Marijuana Unit is overwhelmed by what they say has been a huge increase in illicit cannabis cultivation in the years since legalization.

According to a report from Denver’s CBS affiliate, the city’s pot squad has doubled its number of undercover detectives on the street since Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, and this month’s outdoor harvest season has apparently called for even more manpower.

“Now is the busy season,” said Denver P.D. Sergeant Aaron Rebeterano. “It’s kind of known as the harvest season for us. People are starting to see the plants grow over the fences and they’re getting to a large enough size that they can be seen from public view just by walking by.”

Thanks to those self-snitching colas and some pretty obvious home grow indicators like multiple air conditioner units running full blast in late October, Sergeant Rebeterano says his team has been serving five to nine search warrants a week, all with the expressed goal of keeping Colorado green from leaving state lines.

Colorado residents are legally allowed to grow six plants per person, with three flowering at any given time, but for criminal crews trying to turn a massive profit, a half dozen strains just isn’t enough.

“These people are not the backyard smokers we’ve seen in the past which has never been really a big deal and has never been a huge concern to anybody in the community I don’t think,” Rebeterano said. “What we’re seeing now is more organized criminal enterprises where they will do anything to protect those grows. Remember there is a lot of money they invest in them and we do see an increasing number of firearms and other crimes associated with them; home invasions, burglaries, robberies, things of that nature.”

While California’s dense northern hills have been home to thousands of illicit grow-ops for over half of a century, Colorado has only been dealing with marijuana’s big business black market for a few years. And because Denver is an urban hub with a much denser population than California’s Emerald Triangle, illegal grows are often times in plain view to the public.

Without enough weed beat cops to suss out the skunk by themselves, Rebeterano stressed how important it is for Denver residents to report the suspicious activity they see.

“It does represent a major safety concern. We’d like to see the reporting happen more often. We don’t feel like we’re getting all of the complaints,” he added.

Really though, if the Denver P.D. needs a foolproof plan for stopping black market grows and the purported crime they bring, all Sergeant Rebeterano and his crew need to do is convince the federal government to end the American war on weed. After all, if pot were legal everywhere, there would be no need to illegally move it across state lines.

Follow Zach Harris on Twitter