Pubdate: Sun, 26 Jan 2014
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Page: A1
Copyright: 2014 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Dan Freedman


WASHINGTON - Cheap, low-quality Mexican marijuana is facing increased
competition in Texas from Colorado's higher-potency pot, federal law
enforcement officials say.

When it was legal to buy Colorado pot for medical use only, Texas was
a favored destination - but now that Colorado has made personal use
completely legal as of this year, state and federal law enforcement
officials expect the smuggling into Texas will increase.

Texas ranked fourth among states as destinations for marijuana
trafficked by highway in 2012 from Colorado, according to a Rocky
Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking area (HIDTA) report. The
report recorded 18 seizures in Texas of Colorado pot grown for the
medical marijuana market.

Colorado and Washington state voters in 2012 approved ballot
initiatives legalizing marijuana for personal use under regulatory
guidelines. The Colorado law took effect Jan. 1 of this year.

Voters in Colorado had approved medical marijuana in

"If this is what we saw under medical marijuana, the assumption is
it's going to be a lot more" now that it's fully legal in Colorado,
said Tom Gorman, director of Rocky Mountain HIDTA, one of 28 such
offices created by Congress in 1988 to facilitate cooperation on drug
investigations between state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.

"The intelligence we're gathering shows it. It will be in our next
report," which is due out in late spring or early summer, he said.

Fourfold increase

The last report documented 274 interceptions of Colorado marijuana in
other states, totaling 7,008 pounds - more than 3 tons. Of that
amount, 198 pounds were destined for Texas. The overall amount
represented a fourfold increase since 2005, the report said.

Ahead of Texas on the receiving end were Kansas, Missouri and

Texas ranked No. 2 as a destination for packages of Colorado pot
shipped by mail. Some 158 packages containing 262 pounds of marijuana
were intercepted from the mail in 2012, according to the report.

A separate HIDTA report said one of those was sent from Boulder,
Colo., to San Antonio and was intercepted by South Texas HIDTA Task
Force participants.

Under questioning, the report said, "the intended recipient stated
that he had received shipments of marijuana in the past. ... The
investigation has revealed that a medical cardholder in Colorado
purchases the medical marijuana and then sends it to the recipient in

Unlike Colorado, which is as close as 40 miles from Texas at its
nearest point across the Oklahoma panhandle, Texas has been
unalterably opposed to any form of marijuana legalization, including
for medicinal purposes. But last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that
while he opposes legalization, he favors "decriminalization" through
use of alternative "drug courts."

Nevertheless, "regardless of where it comes from, marijuana possession
remains illegal in Texas, and those who do not comply with our law
risk arrest and criminal charges," said Tom Vinger, Texas Department
of Public Safety spokesman. In the transit zone

The Colorado-Texas connection is a part of the flow of marijuana
traffic moving from West to East, from California and other states in
addition to Colorado. Often, Texas is the transit zone, with state
Highway Patrol troopers lying in wait for marijuana-laden vehicles in
key locations along the Interstate-40 corridor, particularly in the

In that region in 2013, Texas Highway Patrol troopers in the Amarillo
district seized 2,678 pounds of marijuana coming from Colorado,
California and Washington, Vinger said.

A Rocky Mountain HIDTA listing of 2012 highway intercepts in the
Panhandle includes three incidents in which vehicles were heading to

In Web postings, Texas defense lawyers advise prospective clients to
beware of troopers prowling Panhandle highways on the lookout for smugglers.

"With a great deal of success, they are apprehending a number of
persons transporting varying amounts of marijuana from Colorado into
the state of Texas," said Fort Worth attorney David Sloane. Their
favored tactic, according to Sloane: "'rolling surveillance,' where
in a marked patrol car they travel along in the outside lane 10-15
miles an hour under the speed limit, just to see who doesn't have the
nerve to pass them because they have a carload of ganja."

Tons of Mexican marijuana still cross the U.S.Mexico border into Texas
by the truckload, massive amounts compared to the quantitative trickle
of pot coming out of Colorado.

But comparisons are deceiving, said agent Tim Davis, spokesman for the
Drug Enforcement Administration's Dallas division, which covers North
Texas and Oklahoma.

In Mexico, whole plants including stems and seeds are vacuum packed
and shipped in large quantities.

It is "cheap and lowgrade," retailing for $350 to $400 a pound. By
contrast, hydroponic marijuana from Colorado has a significantly
higher content of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. It retails
for $3,000 to $5,000 a pound, or more.

"There have been a number of seizures, hundreds of pounds of high
grade marijuana from Colorado," Davis said. "I don't know if it's the
Emerald Highway, but it's happening more and more and we're going to
see it continue."

Underlying Colorado out-of-state traffic is a nascent conflict within
federal law enforcement over how best to enforce federal drug laws in
the face of state-sanctioned legalization.

President Barack Obama weighed in on the subject last week, telling
The New Yorker magazine that he's troubled by the disproportionate
arrest rate of minority youth and that he thinks it's "important" that
the legalizations in Washington and Colorado "go forward."

In a memorandum and testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee
last year, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the Justice
Department had no desire to "preempt" state ballot initiatives. But
Cole said prosecutors would act if marijuana related activities
"threaten federal priorities" such as "preventing the diversion of
marijuana" from states where it's legal to states where it's not.
Little enforcement

But Gorman, the HIDTA director in Denver, said that federal marijuana
law is not being enforced in virtually any form in Colorado.

Those who ferry marijuana out of Colorado are "making a lot of money
and moving a lot of dope," Gorman said. "I don't know what the
threshold is; I don't know at what point in time it's a violation.
What do we need to do to show marijuana is going out of Colorado? The
report shows 7,000 pounds (of marijuana from Colorado) interdicted. Is
that not enough? I'm just confused."

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Denver, said
federal law enforcement is "actively investigating and prosecuting
marijuana cases" under the Cole guidelines. "We strongly deny the
allegation that prosecutors are failing to investigate or bring
marijuana-related cases."  
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