Colorado police have shut down a smuggling operation that sent massive amounts of marijuana out of state.
A grand jury handed down indictments against 32 people allegedly involved in the scheme, which generated millions of dollars by growing cannabis illegally and then shipping it to other states, primarily Minnesota.
Couriers returned from these cargo runs with hundreds of thousands of dollars each time, the indictments say. The pot was allegedly distributed from Denver. The charges variously include racketeering, money laundering, tax evasion, conspiracy, marijuana cultivation and distribution, and attempt to influence a public servant. Most of the counts are felonies.
Defendants aged between 25 and 71
The Colorado State Grand Jury handed down the indictments in March, charging 32 local defendants of ages ranging between 25 and 71. Authorities said the defendants were able to “hide in plain sight” by claiming to be legitimate medical marijuana caregivers.
Coloradans are allowed to grow up to six plants at home, with no more than three of them flowering at any time. But medical marijuana caregivers are allowed to grow more. Authorities said they caught some of the defendants growing dozens of plants without a commercial or medical license.
Local drug enforcement received a tip
The indictments resulted from a months-long investigation that led to raids on multiple warehouses. The investigation started in 2011, after a local drug task force received a tip that Ryan Farrow, an Elbert County man, was growing cannabis illegally.
Police said Farrow claimed to be a caregiver but eventually admitted his garden was illegal. But police said the raid didn’t stop Farrow, who continued growing the weed and driving it to Minnesota.
Nebraska police stopped him in 2013 and seized more than $150,000 in cash from him and a passenger. Farrow allegedly confessed that he was involved in a smuggling ring.
Marijuana smuggled using planes
The smugglers also allegedly used planes to fly weed into Minnesota and Texas. Joseph Johnson, owner of the airplanes, was also indicted. Johnson works as a skydiving instructor.
Kansas police stopped him in 2014 while he was carrying 66 pounds of weed and $330,000 in cash. Johnson eventually told authorities how the smuggling ring worked and helped officers set up a sting.
The indictments claim the alleged ringleader, Tri Trong Nguyen, tried to form a partnership with a legal recreational dispensary but was rebuffed. A representative of the pot shop told Nguyen his gardens were illegal, according to the indictments.
Marijuana is legal for any purpose in Colorado, though there are limits on both possession and home cultivation. Medical cannabis users are allowed to hire collective caregivers who grow for multiple patients.
Minnesota, on the other hand, still prohibits weed for all uses. The state adopted medical marijuana last year, but it won’t take effect for patients until 2016.