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Marijuana seizures on Colorado public land nearly doubled in 2017

DENVER (AP) — A regional task force reports that officials eradicated a record number of marijuana plants being grown on Colorado public land in 2017.

The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area reports nearly 81,000 plants were destroyed — up from 45,000 in 2016.

The Denver Post reports the number of illegal marijuana plant grows has been increasing since the state began legal recreational marijuana sales in 2014.

Task force director Tom Gorman tells the Post that it’s a lot cheaper for people to conduct illegal — and hidden — grows on public land.

That includes the San Isabel and White River national forests.

Marijuana sales moving forward in Snowmass Village

After several diversions and one final failed attempt by the Town Council minority to get a ballot measure, Snowmass Village is on track to permit pot shops in the near future.

Now that the possibility of taking the question to voters is dead — Tuesday's meeting was the council's last chance to approve a ballot question, with the deadline to submit language to the Pitkin County clerk on Friday — the town will continue to develop its regulatory framework for allowing dispensaries.

Tuesday's discussion was brief but tense. Members of the public and council on more than one occasion said they were offended by arguments from counter sides.

Since the council voted 3-2 in late June for town staff to begin crafting the scheme, Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler has asked her fellow elected officials at several meetings to reconsider its motion. The conversation each time was short-lived, however, as no one's position wavered.

Butler's latest plea came last week, when she said the question of having pot shops in town is a gender issue because the three councilmen support the sale of recreational marijuana in Snowmass, while she and councilwoman Alyssa Shenk do not.

The mayor at Tuesday's meeting expanded on her "male versus female" argument and brought mothers into the mix.

"Mothers are all about protecting their young. I don't care if it's a bird, I don't care if it's an animal," Butler said. "We all know that mothers only focus on that and I don't feel that women's voices have been heard at all on this issue."

Town Councilman Bill Madsen retorted, "This is not a male and female issue. This is not mothers against fathers.

"I take a little bit of offense to that," he said, adding that he is a father and equally does not want his 15-year-old son smoking pot.

The councilman said he also finds it "hypocritical" for the town to oppose pot shops and accept liquor stores.

Town Councilman Bob Sirkus offered a similar point, noting the number of events in Snowmass Village centered around consuming alcohol.

"It's not a big deal in Colorado," Sirkus said, adding shortly after, "As a council we should take responsibility for what we we're elected to do, which is work and deal with the tough issues."

Madsen concluded, "I just think that this ship has sailed. … I think we're ready to move forward" — another view that's been echoed by the council majority for the better of this summer.

Town Councilman Tom Goode said the council has "wasted a lot of time and money on this issue," which Butler found insulting.

For her part, Shenk acknowledged that while marijuana sales "may bring in money," she questioned if it is worth altering Snowmass' feel.

During public comment, part-time Snowmass resident Pat Keefer said the "resort community," or part-time residents, deserve a say.

According to the town's marijuana survey that was conducted from December to January, part-time residents are predominately against dispensaries in Snowmass.

Keefer pointed to the federal government and families visiting from states where marijuana is illegal as a reason to not OK pot shops.

She also suggested the ballot question be mailed to the part-timers' primary residence.

To Keefer's point in considering tourists, Butler said, "Being from Michigan, I wouldn't come (to Snowmass). I'd go to Vail, for that reason."

Dispensaries have been under a moratorium in Snowmass Village since 2013, after Colorado voters approved recreational pot sales in November 2012. The moratorium, which the town extended in February 2017, will expire Oct. 31.

Another majority vote to not add the question of pot shops on the ballot is where the council landed Tuesday.

In a "perfect world," town spokesman Travis Elliot said, the town will finalize the scheme before the moratorium expires next month.

Town Council is expected to review the guidelines again at its next work session on Tuesday. The elected officials first saw and discussed the framework at its last work session Aug. 13.

If the council does not agree on a scheme by Oct. 31, it will have to decide whether to extend the moratorium again, Town Manager Clint Kinney said after the meeting. A moratorium can be set for any amount of time.

Snowmass Village in 2012 voted 989-385 in favor of legalizing pot, according to election results from Pitkin County.

While the Snowmass electorate will not be asked whether they want pot shops, voters will get to decide if the town should pose an additional 5 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana.

As of Tuesday, Snowmass Village was home to 1,892 active registered voters, according to Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill.

A few proposals in the first draft of Snowmass' regulatory framework include the creation of a new zone-district overlay, a minimum 300-foot distance between pot shops, maximum operating hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., odor enforcement and restrictions on advertising and signage.

The Town Council work session next Tuesday will begin at 4 p.m. at Snowmass Town Hall.

erobbie@aspentimes.com

Carbondale hemp shop owner discusses CBD vs. THC

Jeremy Morris was born in Glenwood Springs, calls himself a “Redstone boy,” and named his hemp shop in Carbondale after his own son.

“I owned a cannabis recreational cultivation facility up near Redstone, and I got out of that and got into the hemp business,” the owner of Wyatt’s Apothecary said. “I had a son. A beautiful son, Wyatt, and I opened an apothecary, and I named my store after him.”

Anything but a recreational marijuana dispensary, Wyatt’s Apothecary does not sell pre-packaged pot that will get you high, but rather carries CBD creations that contain less than 0.3 percent of THC.

The quaint Apothecary, located at 259 Main St., Carbondale, with its rustic wooden floors and western décor, sells hemp products such as hemp-infused tinctures, CBD skin cream, muscle salve and more.

“I read a lot of clinical studies, and I do offer, in the store, something that is really unique, which is in-person discussions with somebody that knows about hemp products and that has done the research on the products,” Morris said.

“It’s to further understand it and not, kind of, believe the CBD hype,” he said. “Because there is some information that is thrown around loosely, and I think that people are looking to further understand it from somebody that’s actually educated in it.”

Morris details how people come into his shop all the time, not necessarily to make a purchase, but simply to ask him questions about the hemp products he talks passionately about.

Questions such as, can you explain the difference between hemp and cannabis?

“Yeah, we get that question a lot,” Morris explained. “The difference being that the Department of Agriculture regulates our products under 0.3 percent THC. The MED (Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division) regulates cannabis products that have THC in it.

“So, people will come to Colorado because of that separation, and it has become a national industry … growing hemp and creating CBD-rich products.”

While Morris certainly loves the hemp industry’s growth, at the same time, the Apothecary owner hopes the educational material regarding it will also mature at the same rate so that customers will know exactly what they purchase, when they buy it. That’s something Morris takes to heart with every product he puts on Wyatt’s Apothecary shelves.

“People have come into the shop who have bought CBD, quote unquote, products from a dispensary and thought that they were getting what they saw on a documentary,” Morris said. “To me, that just sucks, when somebody thinks they are going to get something that is really going to help them and be more of a medicinal benefit, and then they end up getting high because they went to a dispensary and their products say CBD.

“So that’s a different animal that’s not a hemp product. That is a recreational marijuana product,” he said.

According to Morris, like recreational marijuana dispensaries, Wyatt’s Apothecary must also possess and adhere to licensing requirements, but through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the state’s MED.

Having been in the recreational marijuana business before, Morris said, “You have to become essentially your own little marijuana lawyer.”

However, now in the business of selling hemp products the main stipulation involves testing and making sure that THC levels stay below 0.3 percent so that the THC becomes negligible.

“I think it’ll benefit farmers more,” Morris said. “I think it’ll kind of bring back agriculture in a way. Historically, hemp was grown here. It’s a great crop with multiple uses.”

Forest Service cleans up illegal marijuana grow site near Redstone

REDSTONE — U.S. Forest Service workers undertook an extensive effort last month to clean up the mess at an elaborate illegal marijuana growing operation and restore natural conditions in a patch of national forest in the Crystal Valley.

A crew of eight workers from the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District spent one day collecting garbage that ranged from kitchen refuse to several hundred yards of drip irrigation piping used to water the pot plants, according to District Ranger Karen Schroyer.

The garbage was consolidated at the site and will be flown out when helicopters stationed at an interagency base in Rifle aren't consumed in firefighting efforts, she said. The trash will be flown down to Highway 133 and trucked to an area landfill.

The illegal grow operation was discovered last September by a hiker about a half-mile off Highway 133 in steep, heavily vegetated terrain near the Placita Trailhead south of Redstone.

Forest Service law enforcement officers and officials from other agencies converged on the site Sept. 28 after obtaining a search warrant. They arrested one man but another escaped into the surrounding mountains. Fernando Esquivel Herrera was charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana plants, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

The attorney's office said in a statement that 2,700 marijuana plants were discovered growing on the site and about 3,000 had already been harvested.

Esquivel Herrera was ordered to pay $18,300 in restitution as part of his sentence. Schroyer said that is the estimated cost of the cleanup, including the future use of a helicopter. The Forest Service is uncertain if it will ever collect the restitution.

A natural resource specialist for the agency visited the site in October to assess the cleanup operation.

"The largest impacted area I observed was what I consider the 'garden' area where it appears several thousand marijuana plants were cultivated using modern and intensely managed techniques," the specialist's report said. He estimated the affected area at 1.5 acres.

The gardeners built terraces in the steep terrain to expand the space where they could grow. They excavated a catchment basin of about 30-by-30 feet and constructed an earthen dam to collect water.

"Several hundred yards of 1-inch black plastic piping (buried) leave the basin and lead directly to the growing location," the pre-cleanup report said.

The gardeners used seven piles of cut branches and brush to camouflage parts of the operation. They hid everything from fertilizer and tools to clothing and garbage. The disturbed area also included separate kitchen and camping areas, the report said.

Before sending in its crew last month, the Forest Service first hired an accredited laboratory to test if the site contained toxic chemicals. Schroyer said nothing more than common fertilizers were found and the site didn't test positive for toxins. It was deemed safe for a Forest Service crew to enter. The terrain was so steep that experienced hikers from the trails and wilderness ranger crews were recruited for the cleanup, she said.

They discovered that the forest had already done a good job of reclaiming the site and that reseeding wasn't necessary.

"We're feeling really good about it," Schroyer said.

However, the crew did find a surprise.

"There were a handful of pot plants that survived the winter, somehow, and needed to get cut down," Schroyer said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Cannabis Calling: Ryan Sterling’s Rise From Bartender to Budtender to CEO

For regulars of the Hotel Jerome's J-Bar, you're probably wondering why one of Aspen's most beloved bartenders isn't there anymore to extend one of the warmest welcomes in town. After six years at the historic watering hole, Ryan Sterling packed his bags for Boulder last summer where he's now the CEO of GreenScreens, an in-store TV network for cannabis dispensaries.

But it all started in Basalt in 2016, where Sterling first met his co-founder Martin DeFrance while working at Roots Rx during an offseason break from the Jerome. Together, they wondered why the wall-mounted flat-screen TV was always turned off and came up with the idea to create something to showcase the store's strain menu and daily specials. Roots Rx let Sterling and DeFrance run with it, soon expanding exposure to include partner brand advertising and consumer education content.

Sterling started researching how to take their idea beyond the dispensary chain's six mountain-town locations and stumbled across CanopyBoulder in a Google search. A seed-stage business accelerator "focused on ancillary products and services in the legal cannabis industry," the startup incubator provides capital of as much as $80,000 following a 16-week mentor-driven bootcamp.

After completing the program last November, GreenScreens is now on screen in more than 100 dispensary locations in eight states and is the fastest-growing company to come out of CanopyBoulder to date.

"Ryan and Martin have first-hand dispensary experience, so they can speak confidently and authentically to their customers and investors about the problem that GreenScreens is solving," explains CanopyBoulder co-founder and CEO Patrick Rea. "Their focus on business development and customer service has helped them win over dispensaries and advertising brands alike, finding more customers faster than any other company that has participated in the program."

Since 2015, CanopyBoulder has helped launch 79 businesses, made over 90 investments and watched alumni raise over $35 million in follow-on funding from angel investors, family offices, private equity funds and hedge funds.

Gaining critical knowledge of the industry from CanopyBoulder's renowned roster of national industry experts who serve as official mentors, DeFrance (now GreenScreens' chief operating officer) says, "It was the best thing that could have happened to us. They gave us the confidence, funding, network and guidance that we needed to prove our concept, raise funds and truly take GreenScreens to the next level."

While CanopyBoulder requires a 6 percent minimum equity stake in return, GreenScreens has already raised an additional $105,000 with a Series A round planned for February.

Following a trip back to his "favorite place in the world" last month for an appearance on Aspen Entrepreneurs' "The Business of Cannabis" panel alongside Rea and Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, I caught up with Sterling to talk more about GreenScreens' trajectory and get his advice for budding entrepreneurs.

Aspen Times Weekly: What made you want to get involved in the cannabis industry?

Ryan Sterling: I've always been an avid consumer and medical patient and really wanted to do something that made a difference. For years I was placed under the stigma of "stoners" and I knew that wasn't how I identified with the plant, so really wanted to help change that perception in society.

ATW: What's the biggest piece of advice for someone looking to make a career switch?

RS: My biggest piece of advice is to ensure you are passionate about the plant — for me personally, it's all about the health and wellness benefits. Navigating through this industry is still very difficult and frustrating due to the huge amount of red tape and constant change happening. Be patient. And get involved — go to events and meet the people who are already successful. Despite so much opportunity, it's a very small industry and getting to know the players is the best way to learn and grow fast.

ATW: What's the most challenging part of your trajectory? The most rewarding?

RS: Aligning with the right partners to execute projects is always a challenge because you want to take the time to make sure it's the best fit. Finding the capital is also extremely difficult and takes persistence and humility. The most rewarding aspect has been helping people have a better experience in dispensaries. Getting feedback that GreenScreens has made the retail experience more enjoyable and easier to navigate keeps us focused on bringing that experience to as many people as we can.

ATW: What do you tell people about CanopyBoulder when you meet them?

RS: It has been the best experience I have had to date in business. Period. As much as you think you know what you are doing when starting a business, there is a priceless value to working in a structured environment with other like-minded people. The accelerator aspect happens naturally because of the energy and the coaching through the program. Even with an M.B.A., the program was essential in GreenScreens finding an identity and growing at the rate we have grown.

ATW: What are you most excited about working on next with GreenScreens?

RS: GreenScreens does more than just make dispensaries look beautiful. Our platform has proven to help dispensary clients and brands move more product, but I am extremely excited to work on phase two. We are taking the network we've built and adding new, cutting-edge technologies to improve the insight capabilities, which we will be rolling out in 2019 in even more dispensaries across the country.

Katie Shapiro can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed around high country @kshapiromedia.

Snowmass Village will ask voters about pot sales tax in November election

As Snowmass gives the green light to pot shops in the village, voters will soon decide if the town should pose an additional 5 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana.

In a 5-0 vote Monday night, the Snowmass Town Council unanimously approved a resolution that will place the sales tax question on the ballot in November. Snowmass' moratorium on marijuana, which has been in place since 2013, is set to expire for a third time Oct. 31.

The ballot question asks the electorate if Snowmass Village should implement an added tax on the sale of retail marijuana and respective products, which town staff believes would generate between $194,967 and $584,900 annually. These projections include the 15 percent excise tax and 10 percent sales on recreational marijuana that the state levies across all jurisdictions.

Some municipalities, however, tack on an additional sales tax at its dispensaries of as much as 5 percent. The city of Aspen does not levy an added tax.

Without the added sales tax, Snowmass Village anticipates that marijuana sales could garner the town an additional $97,483 to $292,450 in revenue.

Altogether, the town projects that pot shops would sell between $1.9 million and $5.8 million in Snowmass Village, according to the memorandum.

Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler urged her fellow council members again Monday to consider adding a question of allowing marijuana altogether on the ballot, which quickly became a moot point.

"We've covered this," Town Councilman Tom Goode said. "I was under the impression that we've covered this."

The council voted 3-2 on June 18 for town staff to develop a regulatory scheme for allowing pot shops as well as the wording for a potential sales tax question. Butler and Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk, who shares the mayor's concern that dispensaries could harm the resort's family-friendly image, were the dissenting votes. Feedback from the town's marketing, group sales and special events advisory board, which advised the council move to forward with allowing recreational pot, indicated otherwise.

The elected officials on Monday also reviewed input from the town's financial advisory board, which recommended that Snowmass voters approve the 5 percent added sales tax.

"The town's financial position is very solid currently, but projections for 2019 to 2022 prepared with the 2018 budget show operating expenses exceed operating revenues," Chairman Greg Smith wrote in a summary of the financial advisory board's meeting July 11. "This opportunity to enhance tax revenue to help deal with these projected deficits is substantial, especially if available in a downturn."

The council on Monday also briefly discussed where the added sales tax dollars would go, but decided to table the conversation until the outcome is known.

Sept. 7 is the deadline to submit ballot language to the Pitkin County clerk.

erobbie@aspentimes.com

Colorado secretly policed medical marijuana doctors, suppressed lawsuit alleges

A lawsuit that accused Colorado regulators of quietly and illegally concocting a policy to police doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients was entirely hidden from public view during a nearly three-year court battle, secreted behind a judge's order to keep it that way, The Denver Post has found.

Nine physicians filed the lawsuit in Denver District Court in March 2015 against the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which regulates and maintains the state's medical marijuana registry, and the Colorado Medical Board, which regulates doctors. A judge initially agreed with the doctors' assertion that the policy was created illegally, but an appeals court overturned that decision late last month.

"There is no justification for concealing the entire file of a case with such a high-degree of public interest," said Frank LoMonte, director of The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. "This is more egregious because you have a case that implicates the behavior of a government agency."

The lawsuit is just one of thousands, including felony criminal cases, that a Denver Post investigation found were hidden from the public, some of them for years and all the result of judges' orders that are also suppressed.

The doctors, each listed only as a John Doe because the judge gave them anonymity protection, challenged the process the state used to create the policy, saying it was secretive and lacked public input or public hearings, a violation of Colorado's open meetings laws. As such, they argued, any referral to the Medical Board was illegitimate, as well as any subsequent investigation.

Denver District Judge Jay Grant's decision in October 2016 found that CDPHE had violated open-meetings laws. He ordered the agency to stop relying on the rule to refer doctors to the Medical Board for investigation, but allowed the board to continue its investigations anyway.

For more on this report, go to denverpost.com.

Are cartels wrongly blamed for Colorado’s black market marijuana?

COLORADO SPRINGS (AP) — A frequently used criticism by law enforcement of Colorado’s legalized marijuana industry is that it invited dangerous drug cartels into the state, where they operate in black market shadows.

Law enforcement in El Paso, Teller and Pueblo counties say it in news releases when perpetrators are of Cuban or Mexican descent. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, said it in January, alleging “cartels have rushed into Colorado, resulting in 19 cartel operation busts in the last 18 months.”

And 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May repeated it to a crowd of community leaders May 1.

“We have cartels from around the world,” May said. “You name any South American country, we have it here.”

The shock value is immediate, as it conjures images of a city overrun by violence and corruption, mysterious disappearances and the most feared names of the drug world — names like Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, now in U.S. custody, or the late Pablo Escobar of the Colombian Medellin Cartel.

The problem is, that’s not an accurate representation of what’s happening, at least not in a way that law enforcement agencies have documented with provable data or resolved court cases. Rather than being widespread, the cartel activity appears limited in scope — small factions with possible ties to cartels instead of large, organized operations within the state.

The Drug Enforcement Administration believes there are cartels here, but police agencies have not produced evidence tying any known international drug cartel to the roughly 650 illegal grow operations they say make up the black market in El Paso and Teller counties. “If we had that information, we would share that,” Teller County sheriff’s spokesman Gregory Couch said.

Instead, they’re using the term synonymously with “drug trafficking organization,” which could mean anything from two individuals, Colorado natives or otherwise, to any larger group growing more than the legal limit of 12 plants per residence and distributing the weed illegally out of the state.

“What we have a tendency to do is think if there’s a Mexican involved in Colorado, they’re cartels,” said Tim Gorman, director of the federally funded anti-marijuana police organization Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. “Probably not.”

DEFINING CARTEL

DEA agent Tim Scott argues strenuously that factions of established cartels, such as the Mexican-based Sinaloa and Beltran-Leyva cartels, are “represented” locally.

The illegal marijuana market is too profitable for them to pass up, he said.

“We’re the source state for marijuana and that’s kind of like being a source country,” Scott said, arguing that weed is to Colorado what cocaine is to Colombia. “(Organizations) are producing it, they’re controlling it and they’re sending it out all over the world . everyone wants Colorado weed. It’s like a brand name.”

Of course, 29 other states now have legal medical or recreational marijuana or both.

Mexico’s Sinoloa and Beltran-Leyva cartels, as well as some Asian factions, operate in Colorado, mainly out of Denver, according to the DEA’s 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment survey. Their “distribution cells . either report directly to (drug organization) leaders in Mexico or indirectly through intermediaries,” the report says, adding that perpetrators “often share familial ties with, or can be traced back to, the natal region of leading cartel figures in Mexico.”

Family surnames and country of origin of those apprehended are apparently the same standards local law enforcement uses to connect cartels to El Paso County’s illegal marijuana grows.

In March, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office announced an “Illegal Marijuana Cartel Cell Arrest” following a bust in Divide where deputies seized 78 pounds of weed and arrested two people. The office didn’t explain how they made that connection but said both of the people arrested “are Cuban citizens.”

Three days earlier, the agency advertised two other busts under the single headline, “Another Illegal Marijuana Cartel Cell Disrupted.” This time, they described the perpetrators as “of Cuban or Mexican descent” and “all with ties to Miami, Fla.” (As early as 2016 law enforcement have been warning of Cuban citizens moving from Miami to Colorado to establish illegal grows).

In December, Colorado Springs police celebrated recovering 212 pounds of marijuana and a gun from a local home. No arrests were announced, but police said, without elaborating, that they “found evidence suggesting the marijuana is affiliated with a Mexican drug cartel.”

Pueblo County sheriff’s deputies, who last summer uncovered the second largest grow operation on U.S. Forest Service lands — about 7,400 plants, were even more ambiguous, noting that because four previous grows found in the area “are believed to be connected to a Mexican cartel” the latest one must be, too.

Scott says some grows on national forest lands are branded by the word “Sinaloa” carved into surrounding trees, an indication it might belong to the Sinaloa Cartel. He wouldn’t say if the Pueblo bust was one of them.

SHAKY DATA

Law enforcement also attributes rising crime rates to cartel involvement, but evidence for that is not well-documented.

Scott says the DEA has found illegal growers to be involved in kidnapping, torture, home burglaries and armed robberies in Colorado Springs and surrounding areas, but he declined to discuss ongoing cases or provide crime statistics from past cases.

What he and other authorities have provided is anecdotal examples of human trafficking. One example: Drug organizations, mainly Cuban, promise workers money in exchange for producing three consecutive marijuana cycles. But, before that third grow comes to fruition, police say, the organization raids its own grow — stealing the plants and then forcing workers with violence to start over at cycle one.

So even if established cartels are not directly operating in Colorado Springs, Scott says, their methods of exploitation and control are.

Most of the violence is contained within the drug ring, though. It’s Cuban on Cuban, which means it’s not rampant in the larger community and it’s likely not reflected in crime statistics, Scott says. “Criminals typically don’t call the cops when something bad happens.”

State figures reported by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation show violent crime — including homicide, rape, and robbery — has been rising in Colorado since 2014 (the year recreational marijuana stores opened), but there is no connection in the data as to how many of those crimes were motivated by the use, distribution, production or presence of marijuana.

There’s also no statewide database attempting to define the black market, a Gazette analysis recently found.

Even the agencies that say they track “marijuana-related” crimes don’t seem to have the data to support their claims of a connection between marijuana and violent crime.

Colorado Springs police, for example, reported eight marijuana-motivated killings in 2016 (five of which stemmed from the same two incidents) and three in 2017, which would seem to suggest a decline (there is no record of drug-related killings prior to 2016). While recently speaking on marijuana’s’ impact in the county, Police Chief Pete Carey described the drug and the violence he says it invites as “one of the biggest public safety challenges our region is facing today.”

When pressed for specifics, the department cited 15 of the 484 reported robberies in 2017 as being directly motivated by marijuana.

Other factors also could contribute to rising crime:

Domestic violence has increased 10 percent in the state since recreational marijuana legalization took effect in 2014, with 18,501 cases reported to CBI in 2016. But no link has connected the rise in reports to the new law. In Colorado Springs, domestic violence consistently accounts for just under 5 percent of call volume, records dating back to 2013 show.

The U.S. Census Bureau said El Paso County was the fastest-growing county along Colorado’s Front Range in 2017, noting a population increase of more than 12,000 people. Overall, the county’s population is estimated at 699,232 people, close behind Denver with 704,621 people. Crime typically increases in tandem with population.

After a large departure of officers in 2015, the Colorado Springs Police Department was so short-staffed that in 2016 Carey folded specialized units to free up 30 more officers to respond to priority one emergencies.

At the time, the city’s response time was more than 14 minutes, well above the goal time of 8 minutes.

Opioid use in the nation has exploded, reaching epidemic levels in some states. While DEA agent Scott says Colorado is “not seeing what you’re seeing on the East Coast,” the County Coroner’s Office reported drug overdoses as the primary or suspected cause of death in 191 of the 902 autopsied deaths in 2017. Heroin was the leading opioid of choice.

ASSESSING THE THREAT

Marijuana also isn’t considered the state’s main drug threat, according to the National Drug Threat Assessment, the same report which found the cartels represented in Denver.

The Denver division of DEA ranked marijuana as the fourth most dangerous drug in the state, behind methamphetamines, heroin, and prescription drugs. The reason? Meth use, the division said, contributed most — 53.1 percent — to property crime, and heroin use contributed most — 66.3 percent — to violent crime.

Marijuana-fueled property and violent crime accounted for 1.5 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively, the report said.

Nationally, agencies also ranked marijuana low on the threat list, with only 5.6 percent of respondents saying it was their greatest threat. Most agencies ranked heroin as the worst, followed by meth, prescription drugs, fentanyl, then marijuana, cocaine and psychoactive substances.

DEA’s Scott says he’d rank marijuana higher in Colorado Springs based on what he sees, though he declined to share how many marijuana cases his office is working.

Last year, the state announced the indictment of 62 people and 12 businesses in Denver and Castle Rock involved in a mammoth marijuana trafficking ring that pretended to be growing weed for sick people but was instead illegally shipping about 100 pounds of the drug to a half-dozen other states and bilking investors, including former NFL players. It is the largest illegal marijuana operation discovered since Colorado voters legalized recreational pot in November, 2012.

Locally, Hoppz’ Cropz, a cannabis accessory and gift shop, was shuttered last July and 13 employees were indicted for illegally distributing about 200 pounds of marijuana as free “giveaways” with the purchase of other merchandise.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has said repeatedly that he believes the illicit pot trade is shrinking and “will be largely gone” in a few years, thanks in part to the tough stance by his office. This year, he diverted more cash to law enforcement agencies to fight illegal marijuana cultivation. He’s also proposed $1.2 million in funding to allow the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to create an interdiction force that can “parachute in” to rural communities with smaller police forces to bust illegal grows.

Hickenlooper has not said much one way or the other about the possible existence of cartels in the state.

But Scott says that foreign involvement in the county’s illegal marijuana grows speaks for itself.

“You didn’t have the Cubans, Vietnamese and Laotians here before legalized marijuana,” Scott said. “They came here because there was no controls and no regulations, and they established themselves.”

Crews continue to hit Lake Christine Fire north side; containment up

As the growth of the Lake Christine Fire slowed at the end of the week, crews were able use back burning Friday to gain more containment, which increased for the first time in nearly a week.

The fire, which has scorched 12,286 acres, is now 45 percent contained, officials said in Friday's updates. The latter number was the first positive movement since containment dropped below 40 percent after the fire grew quickly from July 18 to 21.

Operations Section Chief trainee Rob Berger with Rocky Mountain Team Black said crews did intentional burns Friday from the upper Cattle Creek Road to the fire as it crept toward the road. Those burns on heavy fire fuels caused more smoke over Missouri Heights and El Jebel than the past few days, but officials said it would help to gain more containment by the evening.

Winds kicked up Friday afternoon, gusting to 30 mph, but the temperatures stayed in the 80s.

"It was important that the winds pushed the embers back into the main fire area instead of across the line," said Fire Behavior Analyst Brian Anderson. "(Friday's) burnout operations have been successful … which will help us reach containment sooner."

For the past week, the containment was below 40 percent after reaching a high of 59 percent on July 16 (when the fire was 7,000 acres) before the fire took off July 18 up Basalt Mountain. On Wednesday, the incident commander said the team wanted to have full containment by the time his crew had to rotate off the fire after 14 days. That would be Aug. 2.

To that end, crews spent Friday increasing fire lines on the northwest edge of the burn and looked for ways to get crews on the northeastern corner.

"We're trying to figure out how to get crews up to (that) line," Berger said Friday of the northeast edge. "We expect progress along those lines."

Hand crews spent Friday bringing the fire lines on the western side down to Cattle Creek Road and by the drop point 15 at the corner of the Forest Service Road 509. Hand crews, bulldozers and air drops continued working heavily Friday.

Berger said air crews Thursday dropped 54,600 gallons of water and 35,500 gallons of retardant on the fire's north side using the mobile base set up above Missouri Heights. That work, using six helicopters, continued Friday.

"We feel more confident every day," Berger said.

Officials have been frequently issuing Smoke Outlook reports so people with health issues can be prepared. According the outlook for today, there again will be an increase in smoke production as part of the planned operations.

"As the smoke production increases it is more dense and takes longer to clear out," said Ethan Brown, Air Resource adviser.

A community meeting is schedule for 6 p.m. today at Basalt High School. In addition to the community meetings, there are public information officers hosting fire updates daily at four locations in the valley: the Carbondale and El Jebel City Markets each day at noon; at Willits Park 4 p.m. daily; and on Frying Pan Road just east of Stackyard Lane (by the roadside information board) at 4 p.m. daily.

dkrause@aspentimes.com

The Next Issue Outdoor Retailer Could Tackle? Cannabis.

When Outdoor Retailer relocated what it touts as "North America's largest trade show in the outdoor industry" to Denver, the driving issue for the decision was public lands. After 20 years in Salt Lake City, organizers felt Utah politicians no longer valued exactly what the industry so heavily depends upon.

Now after its first successful Snow Show in Denver in January, O.R. (its more common moniker) has settled perfectly into its new home city. And with the annual Summer Market ahead (July 22-26), the next issue the conference could tackle is cannabis.

Similar to the scene at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, where cannabis brands are only involved beyond the tents at unaffiliated, private pop-up parties, we have yet to see any official sponsors or activations on the O.R. floor. But this year, Zeal Optics, Osprey Packs, Outdoor Research and Be Hippy have joined forces with some of Colorado's leading cannabis companies for the inaugural Green Industry Affair on Tuesday, July 24.

The groundbreaking eco-event's mission is to "push the environmental movement forward with an unprecedented union of the cannabis and outdoor communities," which will feature a performance by the electronic duo BoomBox and an educational presentation by Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism Solutions, and a Time magazine "Hero of the Planet."

Proceeds from the evening will directly support the Colorado Carbon Fund — an environmental nonprofit that measures, reduces and offsets carbon emissions in the state. Attendees will also be encouraged to partake in the Carbon Neutral License Plate program, which generates revenue and awareness through specialized Colorado license plates to support climate change mitigation.

The Green Industry Affair is the brainchild of the Denver-based marketing agency Cannabrand, whose founder and CEO Olivia Mannix says, "The cannabis, outdoor and environmental industries work very well together because they all, by default, elevate each other. Hemp alone can cut down carbon emissions and energy by a substantial amount."

"In an effort to reduce our carbon footprint, Lightshade just completed construction of a 40,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art greenhouse which will reduce our water and power consumption by more than 50 percent," says Shannon Brooks, partner of Lightshade dispensaries, an event sponsor.

As far as bridging the gap between cultural acceptance and brands promoting the actual usage of cannabis in the great outdoors?

"Five years into legalization, cannabis is still considered new to some. For a lot of outdoor companies, they are just now realizing that cannabis has gone mainstream, so feel more comfortable openly talking about it," says Adam Dickey, director of marketing for Lucy Sky Cannabis Boutique, another event sponsor. "And the average cannabis consumer is becoming much more educated. Colorado is an outdoor playground with endless activities in beautiful places — some more exhausting than others — that affect your body more than others. Rather than turning to pharmaceuticals during their recovery time, people are using cannabis products that are high in cannabinoids like CBD for quicker overall body recovery."

The big name outdoor brands involved have already made a bold statement just by participating in the Green Industry Affair, which hopefully will only inspire more gear companies to have the long overdue cannabis conversation back in their offices after O.R.

Katie Shapiro can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed around high country @kshapiromedia