NEW YORK (MainStreet) According to an August 2012 report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RHIDTA), a branch of the White House National Office of Drug Control Policy, marijuana smuggling out of Colorado to other states has increased.
The report states, "From 2005 to 2008, compared to 2009 to 2012, interdiction seizures involving Colorado marijuana quadrupled from an average per year of 52 to 242. During the same period, the average number of pounds of Colorado marijuana seized per year increased 77% from an average of 2,220 to 3,937 pounds. A total of 7,008 pounds was seized in 2012."
The RHIDTA is the Colorado office of the many HIDTA's, created by Congress in 1988, furnishing assistance to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in high drug-trafficking regions. The purpose of HIDTA is to reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States.
Medical marijuana became legal in Colorado in 2000. There must have been a problem with medical marijuana being diverted for recreational use within the state, because a new law was passed by Colorado in 2010 with the intent of preventing it.
But there was speculation among law enforcement was that medical marijuana from Colorado was also being shipped out of state. Now law enforcement is gathering data validating this.
"There has been a pretty significant increase in marijuana going to other states since it was legalized in 2009 and that is just what we catch," said Tom Gorman, RHIDTA's director.
"It goes to about 28 other states," Gorman continued. "We have another report coming out in the spring and indications are it has not slowed down and interdiction experts are saying only ten percent is caught. It is about three and a half tons going to other states."
That is a lot of grass - at current Colorado average market rates it comes to about $58,240,000. Not a bad annual earning - all of it untaxed of course.
This smuggling is not confined to Colorado. Washington, which also recently legalized recreational marijuana, has a track record of exporting its crop of medical marijuana for illegal use in other states.
Dave Rodriguez, the director of the Northwest HIDTA which includes Washington state, said that over the last several years they have been tracking outbound highway seizures of loads of marijuana. He was unequivocal about Washington's marijuana being shipped outside of the state. Indeed, the smuggling is growing.
"The amount of marijuana being shipped from Washington has increased," he stated.
Here are some anecdotes taken directly from an August 2012 RHIDTA report of cases where Colorado smugglers were caught. These anecdotes only involve Colorado:
- In 2011, the West Metro Drug Task Force (WMDTF) investigated a Denver area dispensary for the shipment of "medical" marijuana outside of the state of Colorado. An undercover officer, who claimed to be from PENNSYLVANIA, arranged a deal with the owners of the dispensary to purchase 200 pounds of marijuana for distribution outside of Colorado.
- In 2011, the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force (NCDTF) initiated a case involving multiple shipments of high-grade marijuana being shipped through a parcel service from Ft. Collins, Colorado to VIRGINIA. The marijuana source was determined to be an employee of a local parcel service. It was estimated that more than 300 pounds of marijuana had been shipped to VIRGINIA by the parcel service employee over the period of a few months.
- In March 2012, WYOMING Highway Patrol stopped a vehicle traveling westbound on Highway 30. The officer discovers 9.5 grams high-grade marijuana, 125 grams of marijuana brownies, and 1.8 grams of marijuana candy found on the passenger and in the vehicle. The passengers stated they had purchased the products from a "store" in Colorado.
- In March 2011, Iowa State Patrol stopped a vehicle traveling from Longmont, Colorado to Nashville, TENNESSEE. During the search of the vehicle, 1.5 pounds of marijuana was found. The driver admitted to having a Colorado medical card, and was taking the marijuana to TENNESSEE to make a profit.
- In January 2012, Nebraska State Patrol stopped a vehicle traveling from Denver, Colorado to Sioux City, IOWA. During the search, troopers discovered 1.75 pounds of marijuana. The driver admitted to having a Colorado medical marijuana card and visiting up to seven dispensaries throughout the week.
- In April 2011, Kansas Highway Patrol stopped a vehicle traveling from Boulder, Colorado to Vero Beach, FLORIDA. During the search officers discovered 17.5 pounds of marijuana, 1.85 pounds of hashish, and 43 gel caps of marijuana. The driver admitted to buying the marijuana from a dispensary in Denver.
The out of state smuggling of marijuana from Colorado and Washington is anticipated to increase once recreational sales go into full swing. The reasoning of law enforcement is that there will be more sellers and larger supplies available with the legalization of recreational marijuana. Ergo more grass will be smuggled by more people to more states.
One other aspect of this smuggling needs to be mentioned. The smuggling of legal marijuana undercuts one of the arguments made by those advocating legalization. Among the many justifications made by pro-pot advocates - including some of society's elite like PayPal founder Peter Thiel or Whole Foods founder John Mackey - was that we spend too much money locking up pot smokers. Legalize pot and governments save the taxpayers' beaucoup bucks.
These arguments are up in smoke.
There is now - and always will be - an illegal marijuana trade. There will still be government money spent enforcing marijuana production, sale and consumption. There will still be money spent to collect taxes and put people in jail who violate marijuana laws.
The notion that a major cost of criminalizing marijuana involved the criminal justice system was always a canard. Prison space was not used up on those caught with a joint.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1997, just 1.6% of the state inmate population were held for offenses involving only marijuana, and 0.7% were incarcerated with marijuana possession as the only charge. Some 0.3% of state prisoners in 1997 who were convicted just for marijuana possession were first time offenders. A subsequent 2005 study by Jonathan P. Caulkins and Eric Sevigny confirmed this.
While it is too early to tell, there are indicators that lead one to believe that marijuana legalization will cause more problems than it solves.
--Written by Michael P. Tremoglie for MainStreet