Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin says an increase in drug trafficking in the area is a result of Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana.
“Colorado has become a source state for drugs, and that is causing more and more problems,” Nowlin told Montezuma County commissioners.
He said Colorado marijuana suppliers are being contacted by out-of-state drug dealers, including the Mexican cartel, to sell them large amounts of pot for out-of-state sale.
Two recent drug busts illustrate the problem, the sheriff’s office said.
On May 6, an undercover sting in Mancos led to an arrest of a Kentucky man and confiscation of a vehicle and $18,000 in cash.
According to the sheriff’s report, the suspect requested an undercover agent provide him with 10 pounds of marijuana and one ounce of cocaine and methamphetamine. He had driven from Kentucky for the purchase.
After the undercover narcotics sale concluded, the suspect was confronted by law enforcement, brandished a firearm and fled on foot. After a short foot and vehicle chase, he was found hiding under a vehicle and arrested. While evading police he attempted to break into a nearby home, according to the report.
Operation Kentucky Kush was conducted by the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office and the Cortez Police Department’s narcotics division, with assistance from the DEA Southwest Drug Task Force and Mancos Marshal.
“The suspect arrested in this case intended to transport and distribute the marijuana in Kentucky upon his return,” the police report claimed.
On March 18, a vehicle suspected to be trafficking cash related to narcotic sales and the Mexican drug cartel was stopped on U.S. Highway 160. A search warrant was obtained the next day, and $22,000 in cash was found hidden in the vehicle.
According to the sheriff’s report, “the currency was packaged in a way commonly used by Mexican drug cartels to smuggle large amounts of cash.”
The cash seizure was turned over to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to investigate its origin.
The suspect had been released at the scene of the original stop pending evidence gathered during the search warrant. Case records are sealed as the investigation continues.
The sheriff said that the U.S. 160 corridor is commonly used as a smuggling route for drug cartels to move narcotics and then transport the cash back to Mexico.
Recent legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado has added a twist to the situation.
“Blackmail is a real possibility for marijuana dispensaries here,” he said. “They are cutting into (the cartel’s) profits, who say it’s time to pay up. That puts everyone in jeopardy.”