Several large marijuana cultivation sites in Colorado that were being used by traffickers to ship the drug to other states have been dismantled by federal agents and state police in the past six weeks, authorities said on Thursday.
Since mid-August, federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies have raided the illegal pot cultivation sites in the Colorado mountains, including several in national forests, according to a statement issued by U.S. Attorney John Walsh.
The use of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes is legal in Colorado, but growing and selling marijuana products is controlled by state regulators.
"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 may take years to mitigate," the statement said. "In every case, the marijuana grows were both illegal under federal law and unlicensed by state authorities under Colorado's marijuana regulatory system."
Walsh said some of the marijuana was grown for users in other states.
Agents seized some 20,000 mature cannabis plants and 660 pounds (300 kg) of dried marijuana, along with firearms and cash, the statement said, adding that 32 suspects have been arrested and face federal drug-trafficking charges.
In addition to Colorado, possession and use of recreational cannabis is legal in Oregon, Alaska, Washington state and the District of Columbia.
Nearly two dozen states allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but it remains illegal under federal law.
The Colorado raids followed the guidelines issued in 2013 by the U.S. Justice Department to federal prosecutors outlining circumstances where authorities could target offenders in states where pot is legal, Walsh said.
Those include growing pot on public lands, trafficking marijuana to states where it remains illegal, the use of weapons, and the diversion of money to drug trafficking cartels.
The largest seizure from the raids occurred in early September in southern Colorado, where hunters stumbled across a pot growing operation in the San Isabel National Forest.
Authorities said they seized 11,700 plants and uncovered an elaborate, 10-acre operation that featured an irrigation system and pesticides, along with a full kitchen and two sleeping areas. Two men who were allegedly looking after the crop were arrested.
"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.
By Keith Kofman - Reuter's/Oct. 8, 2015