COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Right now, there is more black market marijuana on our streets than ever before, that's according to the El Paso County Sheriff. And, more illegal marijuana grows translates into mounting costs for taxpayers. El Paso County will spend thousands tracking them down and then getting rid of the product.
The Sheriff's Office estimates they've seized roughly 5,200 marijuana plants since January 1 in the county. All of the seized plants and processed marijuana ends up in huge storage containers owned by EPSO. Once its there, the marijuana is dried out, shredded, and then turned into mulch.
“It constantly drags on our resources," said Sheriff Bill Elder. "We spend about $1,200 every time we go to destroy a container full of marijuana." Lt. Bill Huffor added, "This is I think the third time that we’ve had to empty out our storage because it fills up so quickly.”
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office says it costs law enforcement on both the front and back ends to find illegal marijuana and get rid of it. There is a cost on the front end to take down the grows, and then on the back end to destroy the product.
“Our SWAT team will execute close to 300 warrants this year. Now, you factor in the point that over 200 of those will be marijuana search warrants. That is huge," said Sheriff Elder. "It’s probably two times what they would normally work.”
Sheriff Bill Elder says criminals are taking advantage of loopholes in our laws, like the number of plants that can be legally grown. When medical marijuana was first legalized in Colorado, people were allowed to have 99 plants per location. People also had the option to pass them off and grow for up to 5 other people, so you could have up to 600 plants.
“We let the genie out of the bottle in 2000 when we legalized medical marijuana and we didn’t put the caps on it," said Sheriff Elder. “I would urge any other state that is going to legalize marijuana grows to learn by these mistakes. This has been a grand experiment on how to produce marijuana in an uncontrolled environment and unregulated environment. We’ve been chasing our tails ever since.”
Sheriff Elder tells 11 News grows started in residential areas all over the county when medical marijuana was first legalized. They were fairly benign until early 2017. That led to a change in the law that just started in January of this year.
“We had to change the law, so that residential plant count dropped down to 12 plants in residential neighborhoods, and if they were commercial growers then they had to follow the rules," said Sheriff Elder. "When we changed those laws, they became effective January 1 of this year, that gave us the ability to go after these illegal grows. These cartel-based grows.”
The Sheriff's Office says at this pace, it will take years and a majority of resources to get rid of the illegal marijuana grows in El Paso County.