Sixty-two people were indicted in Denver after being accused of participating in a marijuana trafficking ring that illegally grew pot and sold it out of state, reports the Denver Post.
Some of the group were also accused of financial crimes that included lying to investors, one of which was former Denver Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen, about the legality of their operation.
The drug bust was the largest the state of Colorado has seen since it legalized recreational marijuana in 2014.
In 2014, authorities launched an investigation based on a tip. Nearly 150 search warrants over 11 months were executed in homes and warehouses throughout the metro area of Denver.
Forty-three people are currently in custody while the rest of the group remains at large.
David Schiller, an assistant special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, hopes that the indictments will serve as a warning.
“We stand here today to send a message. … We will not tolerate the illegal marijuana market in Colorado.”
Nearly 2,500 illegally cultivated marijuana plants and 4,000 pounds of marijuana were seized as a result of the indictment, which was filed June 9.
Cynthia Coffman, Colorado Attorney General, who announced the bust Wednesday, says this shows how the legalized recreational marijuana industry has failed to deter black market dealings throughout the state of Colorado.
Members of the operation, named the “Toker Poker,” because many of the members met through games of poker, were not licensed to grow marijuana, then sold to buyers outside of the state where it’s illegal.
Some of the group recruited investors by telling them that the operation was legal.
One of those investors included Joel Dreessen.
Dreessen’s attorney said his client “was an innocent lender to a business he was told was both lawful and properly licensed. Joel has been repaid all funds he provided and is glad to have this matter behind him.”
Colorado state law enforcement has placed a strong emphasis on taking down gray market operations that sell marijuana out of state, and a wave of large-scale busts has been the result.
Cannabis regulation consultant for states and cities Andrew Freedman said he believes new legislation passed by the Colorado government will make it harder for these kinds of operations to run their business.
The legislation will hamper growers who aim to produce large amounts of marijuana that is meant to be sold on the gray market by making it illegal to grow more than 12 plants in a residential area, regardless if the grower has approval that’s given to medical marijuana patients, or caretakers, to grow 99 plants or more.
Growers will be required to register with their local municipality to grow more than 12 plants and will have to keep the plants in a commercial or agricultural area.
Freedman says that the marijuana industry is threatened by the negative association the public makes with the product being sold on the black market. He hopes that the new legislation will help to ease any negative attitudes towards the industry.
“I do think the experiment is under the microscope. Anything negative that happens will be a national story. This was a weakness in our system, and I’m hopeful the legislation shores up that weakness, but it is something the story will be judged on.”
[Feature photo: Colorado Attorney General]