Mikesell cites drug cartels as big menace
~ by Trevor Phipps ~
Despite a flurry of rumors, Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell last week made it clear that his office was not going after legal marijuana-users.
Instead, he emphasized their agency is concentrating on busting the large illegal-grow operations that are being used to provide massive amounts of marijuana to other states. Mikesell used examples of other marijuana-grow operations they have busted this year. He also stated that his office suspects that there are 40-60 illegal marijuana-grow operations in Teller County, 600-800 in El Paso County and more than 1,000 in Pueblo County.
These were some of the highlights of a presentation the sheriff gave to a packed house at the Florissant Grange Hall on Feb. 13 to demonstrate the problems drug cartel-related marijuana cultivation houses cause within the county. He showed pictures to illustrate electrical hazards found within the busted homes. He then described how the houses draw a lot of electrical current and can rack up electrical bills as high as $9,500 a month. Mikesell then stated that this much power, being drawn from a house, can overburden the electrical system and cause neighborhood power outages.
According to the sheriff, houses that use this much electricity also pose a fire threat. “I have a ticking time bomb in every subdivision,” Mikesell said in reference to the suspected 40 to 60 illegal grow operations in the county.
He went on to talk about other problems these cartel-related grow operations cause within Teller County. Mikesell said that most of the houses used are rental homes causing the landlord to be riddled with expensive repairs and possibly lowering the property value in the neighborhood. According to the sheriff’s presentation, electrical damage and mold damage often occurs in marijuana-grow houses.
The presentation also emphasized other crimes that can be brought to the area with the marijuana-related cartel presence. The cartels often use the local area to grow marijuana, and then deliver it to other states, where it is not allowed. The cartels then bring back other drugs such as cocaine and heroin to sell here, according to the sheriff.
This drug activity then brings about other crimes such as home invasions, burglary and other types of violence. According to Undersheriff John Gomes, the cartels are drawn to this area because it is easier to get away with growing large amounts of marijuana in areas where cultivating small amounts of cannabis are legal (such as Colorado).
Plenty of resident concerns
The large crowd at the Grange presented the sheriff and his crew with a number of questions. The sheriff was asked why his office does not work with the electrical companies to figure out which homes are using $9,500 a month worth of electricity. Mikesell responded by stating that he and Teller County Commissioner Norm Steen (who was in the audience) had gone to Denver and tried to talk with the heads of the electrical company about cooperating with local officials. According to both Mikesell and Steen, “that door was slammed shut on us.”
Mikesell went on to say that IREA officials have decided that they were going to protect the privacy of their customers and not disclose any electrical bill information to sheriff deputies. Mikesell described to the audience that he thinks money may be involved, and that the electrical companies are scared that marijuana growers will switch to generators if they turn them into authorities.
Another question dealt with what the exact amount of plants and processed marijuana that are legal under current laws in Colorado. The audience member wondered that since an average marijuana plant can produce four ounces, and up to twelve plants is allowed, per residence, what amount of processed weed was then illegal. “I don’t care about four ounces,” Mikesell replied.
He went on to say it would be legal to possess the three pounds of marijuana if the grower did not sell it or “use it to proposition him for his car,” added the sheriff jokingly, in reference to a recent incident in which a couple was arrested for trying to trade marijuana for a vehicle the sheriff’s office was trying to sell on Craigslist.
The sheriff closed the presentation by stressing that the amount of illegal-grow operations they are pursuing consist of amounts that are a lot more than what anyone can use personally. According to a slide shown, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office has confiscated 246.63 pounds of refined marijuana, 436 plants with a plant weight of 231.2 pounds and 3.5 pounds of marijuana concentrate. According to the sheriff’s office’s calculations, the total Colorado street value of everything they have confiscated this year is close to $1.5 million, with an out of state street value of about $2.4 million. In layman’s terms, the law officers noted that each of the 12 people they have arrested this year would have had to smoke nearly 398 a day to reach these amounts, if they wanted to use the pot “for personal use.”