Two men face a federal investigation after they were pulled over near Towaoc on Oct. 10 with a large amount of commercial marijuana in their vehicle.
Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office deputies assisted a Bureau of Indian Affairs K9 officer at 10:10 p.m. and reported that they discovered about 60 containers with an estimated 64 grams of live resin, a high-quality marijuana concentrate, and two large containers of dry buds inside the vehicle.
The vehicle’s two occupants, identified as Jaime Navarro and Nathan Cochran, were pulled over on suspicion of driving over the speed limit near the intersection of U.S. Highways 160 and 491. They reportedly told law enforcement officers they were from Scottsdale, Arizona, and were on their way back there.
Deputy Victor Galarza, who responded to the scene, reported he saw several signs that suggested that the men might have been taking marijuana across the border to sell in Arizona. Their vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe with California license plates, was reportedly registered to Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Phoenix, but the men were unable to provide the rental agreement.
“I know based on my training and experience, individuals involved in the distribution and/or trafficking of controlled substances and other illegal contraband, tend to use third-party vehicle’s (sic) to transport their illicit product,” he wrote. They do this to have less of a direct connection to their vehicles in case they are stopped, he wrote.
Galarza also said the vehicle contained a package of compressed air freshener, which he said is often used to disguise the odor of drugs. The vehicle also reportedly contained a handwritten “shopping list” that included packaging materials Galarza said are often used to resell marijuana.
Cochran reportedly said he had no proof of employment, since he worked for his father and was paid “under the table.” He and Navarro reportedly gave conflicting reports about how long they had known each other, and said they said they could not remember the name of the friend they were visiting in Scottsdale.
Galarza reported the marijuana containers in the vehicle bore labels from several different dispensaries. According to the Colorado government website, state law allows adults 21 and older to buy and possess up to 28 grams, or 1 ounce, of marijuana at a time. But Oliver Scott-Tomlin, operations manager of The Herbal Alternative in Cortez, said the equivalent of an ounce in pure concentrate form is just 800 milligrams. Galarza estimated the suspects would have to make more than seven separate transactions in order to legally buy the amount of marijuana in their vehicle.
It is illegal to carry any amount of the drug across state boundaries.
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said people smuggle marijuana out of Montezuma County into neighboring states “every single day.”
“Go and look at any of the marijuana dispensaries, and you look at the license plates that are showing up there,” he said. “New Mexico, Arizona, now California, Texas, Oklahoma. ... Colorado is a source state, anymore.”
He said traffic stops like the one near Towaoc have become increasingly common since retail marijuana was legalized in Colorado. He also blamed the recent rise in car thefts in Southwest Colorado partly on smugglers’ need for “third-party vehicles.”
Scott-Tomlin said employees at his store try not to sell products to the same person more than once a day, to avoid letting customers go over their legal limit. But with five recreational dispensaries in Cortez alone, people can still buy large quantities if they shop at multiple locations.
“There’s no way for us to check what they bought at other dispensaries,” Scott-Tomlin said.
On Oct. 10, after taking photos of the suspect vehicle’s contents for evidence, Galarza handed over the investigation to the BIA officer who conducted the traffic stop, so that he could request a federal investigation. The BIA officer seized the marijuana, Galarza said.
Officials at the BIA Office of Justice Services declined to comment on the case on Wednesday. Jeffrey Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver, said no charges have been filed against the men and they are not in custody, but he confirmed they are involved in the ongoing investigation.