CONTACT Authorities destroy $24M marijuana operation - Dr. Christian Thurstone

Local, state and federal officials today destroyed more than 11,000 marijuana plants in a forest outside Pueblo, Colo. The grow operation, which authorities said was the work of a Mexican drug cartel, was valued in excess of $11 million. (Update, July 16: Authorities finished their work today, and reported these final numbers: 13,725 plants valued at $24 million destroyed.)

The Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office said the bust, called “Operation Flypaper,” shut down the largest illegal marijuana grow operation in the county’s history — and one of the largest in the history of Colorado. The growing fields were estimated to be at least three years old and to have yielded in excess of $60 million in drug sales.

Two men, both Mexican nationals, were arrested. At least five other men believed to have been part of the operation escaped. Authorities found tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, toiletries — and hundreds of empty beer cans. Aside from makeshift camp sites, the growing fields also were littered with hundreds of pounds of trash that included empty bottles of insecticide poured into local water sources. The growers had destroyed hundreds of trees to make way for the marijuana crop.

The growing fields, near Colorado’s Lake Isabel, were on privately owned property, spanning thousands of wooded acres. The land’s owner discovered the operation earlier this year and alerted authorities.

Local and state officials destroyed the grow operation, and federal authorities, working with the Colorado National Guard’s Joint Counterdrug Task Force, air-lifted the plants into waiting dump trucks that hauled them off for analysis and destruction. has exclusive photos of today’s government takedown of the grow operation.

I offer these observations about today’s government intervention:

  • Colorado essentially has legalized marijuana, and yet the state’s black market continues to thrive. Legalization and regulation of the drug haven’t shut down Mexican drug cartels or slowed drug-related death and destruction throughout Latin America — and they’re very unlikely to do so. Mexican crime syndicates are operating within the United States, and they will not close their marijuana operations if Americans legalize this drug. Legalization only would proliferate marijuana use in the United States — and harm many more American youth and innocent people. “If you don’t think they’re (Latin American drug cartels) here, they are, and if we pass Amendment 64, there’s going to be a lot more of them,” Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor reportedly told the Colorado National Guard Public Affairs Office. (The proposed Amendment 64 would legalize marijuana for recreational use in Colorado.)
  • The marijuana destroyed today outside Pueblo is sold at cheaper rates than the potent strains of so-called “medical marijuana” peddled by dispensaries. Why is that important? Because this is the “product” most frequently purchased by price-sensitive teens. I am co-authoring a study that has found 65 percent of past-year, marijuana-using teens in Colorado who are not in substance abuse treatment are using marijuana that comes from grow operations like this one.
  • Marijuana growers are destroying our environment. As previously noted, several states have authorized marijuana grow operations that love to tout their responsibility to the earth and environment — and yet we still have these very serious problems plaguing beautiful private and public lands and water. Legalized grow operations — which invite plenty of their own problems — haven’t curbed these black-market scourges. If you use marijuana, you are an accomplice to this.

    About Chris Thurstone

    Dr. Christian Thurstone is one of only a few dozen physicians in the United States who are board-certified in general, child and adolescent and addictions psychiatry. He is Director of Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, where he conducts research on youth substance use and addiction and serves as director of medical training for the university’s addiction psychiatry fellowship program. You can read more about him here.

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