32 arrested, face federal charges in illicit marijuana grow site bust

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DENVER -- Thirty-two people have been arrested in connection with illicit marijuana cultivation sites across Colorado over the past six weeks, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado John Walsh said Thursday.

Raids conducted by federal and state law enforcement resulted in the arrests, and the discovery and seizure or destruction of nearly 20,000 marijuana plants and more than 300 kilograms of dried marijuana.

Firearms and cash also were seized at several sites. Camping gear, trash, irrigation pipe and pesticides were also collected from some of the grow sites.

Nearly all of those arrested are from outside Colorado, including Mexican and Cuban nationals and some who were in the U.S. illegally, according to court documents, which also allege some of those arrested appear to be working for drug trafficking organizations.

Some illicit grows were located in multiple residences and outbuildings, while many others were located on federal land, causing environmental damage to the land that might take years to mitigate, according to the Department of Justice.

The six grow sites mentioned in the release were in Fremont, Custer, Jefferson, Routt, Huerfano and Montrose counties.

In every case, the marijuana grows were illegal under federal law and unlicensed by state authorities under Colorado law, according to the DOJ.

Authorities said the busts represent an "unusually large and widespread group of illicit marijuana grows" in violation of federal law and operating outside Colorado's regulatory system.

Federal, state and local authorities continue to investigate other potential illicit grows, Walsh said.

“These joint federal-state law enforcement actions against large illicit marijuana grows represent a new phase in the challenges facing law enforcement after Colorado’s legalization and regulation of marijuana under state law,” Walsh said in a news release. “Illegal activity of this kind underscores the need for strong, joint law enforcement efforts by federal and state authorities to identify, cut off and destroy the efforts of drug trafficking organizations to use Colorado as a ‘source state’ for export of illegal marijuana around the country."

Those arrested are being prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys from the Major Crimes Section and the Drug Task Force Section of the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office.