A major, illegal marijuana grow operation, just outside Woodland Park off Rampart Range Road, has been seized.
However, no arrests have occurred and an investigation continues into the reported cannabis growing center. The marijuana operation was located on a 5-acre area in a remote area in the Pike National Forest. The area, though, is heavily frequented by campers and recreational buffs and ATV vehicles. The site of the operation was heavily patrolled by law enforcement officials last weekend.
Agents from a spree of local, state and federal agencies, including the Colorado National Guard, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Department of Homeland Security and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, uncovered the 18,300-plant operation on Aug. 11. According to Colorado Springs media reports, about 2,000 pounds of infrastructure, including irrigation pipes, camping gear, tarps, trash and chemicals had been installed at the site.
Officials have not released any details regarding how they learned about the operation, or what sparked the investigation, or potential suspects.
The production of marijuana on federal lands is strictly prohibited, even though Colorado has approved the use and growth of recreational and medicinal cannabis on a limited basis. Even with this prohibition, Forest Service property is often targeted by marijuana plant growers. In the last five years, more than 30,000 plants have been seized in the Pike National, San Isabel and Routt National Forest areas in Colorado.
The current investigation is being headed by the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the area. Forest Service officials say marijuana plant growing hubs can create a mega environmental disaster and a dangerous threat to wildlife.
According to the Forest Service, the charges against the suspected marijuana growers connected to the latest operation could include conspiracy to distribute marijuana, depredation against property of the United States, cultivation on federal property, environmental damage from illegal manufacturing, and intentionally manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance. The minimum jail sentence for this crime is estimated at 10 years behind jail for first-time offenders.
Feds bash medical marijuana research
Oddly enough, the timing of this investigation coincides well with a decision by the DEA to deny petitions to reclassify marijuana from the highest category of dangerous substances.
Moreover, federal authorities have concluded that marijuana will remain a Schedule 1 substance, with the highest legal restrictions under the Controlled Substances Act. It is classified among dangerous drugs such as heroin, LSD and ecstasy. DEA officials have stressed that there is no research to support marijuana’s use as a medicine.
However, they did state that this position could change if the Federal Drug Administration deems it as a safe and effective treatment tool for certain illnesses. They maintained that the FDA hasn’t yet taken that step.
This decision represents a definite legal defeat for proponents of medical and recreational marijuana use. It also may raise the political stakes for the November election for cannabis advocates. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have already opened the legal door for adults to grow up to six plants for medical and recreational marijuana purposes. In addition, medical marijuana is legal in 26 states and 13 other states are looking to legalize medical or recreational pot this November.
As a result, the latest decision could create a clash between federal and state rules pertaining to marijuana usage and grow pursuits. Cannabis laws, and how the feds handle enforcement, could become a major decision the next president is forced to make.