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Jul 29, 2013 9:42 PM by Andy Koen

Colorado a source state for black market marijuana

COLORADO SPRINGS - Colorado is quickly becoming a primary exporter of black market marijuana and federal agents tasked with stemming the flow of such drugs point to a broken regulatory system as a big part the problem.

Matthew Barden, the Resident Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Colorado Springs field office, frequently see marijuana busts in Colorado flows across state borders.

"In 2011 for the first time, Colorado marijuana seizures surpassed that of California," Barden said.

Statistics on marijuana seizures tracked by the DEA's St. Louis Field Division recorded 210 busts involving Colorado grown marijuana between the years 2005 and 2009. During the next four years (2009 to 2012) that number grew to 968 busts, almost a five fold increase.

More recent numbers suggest the flow of black market pot isn't slowing. During a single bust in January, troopers with the Nebraska Highway Patrol seized 476 pounds from a driver headed from Denver to Wisconsin. Barden thinks it's unlikely that much of the drug was bought 2 ounces at a time.

"You'd have to make four trips around the state and visit every one of those 1,100 dispensaries to accumulate 476 pounds of marijuana," Barden said.

House Bill 1284, the 2010 state laws that created medical marijuana dispensaries, also mandated that regulators track how many plants are grown to prevent black market sales. That tracking system still hasn't been created.

In March, state auditors released a report sharply criticizing the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division for wasteful spending and incomplete enforcement.

"I know that the state is working on this, the problem is that through the auditors office, there's just not a lot of oversight right now by the State of Colorado."

He says that lax regulatory structure is an invitation for crime particularly in an industry where a lot of cash is changing hands.

"I think the opportunity is primed and right at this time for the State of Colorado to have a lot more criminal syndicates and criminal organizations come here."

State License Authority has been hosting a series of Stakeholder Working Group meetings to address changes to the permanent rules associated with licensing retail marijuana stores. Formal public hearings will be held August 20-22 in the Old Supreme Court Chamber at the State Capital.

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