Time to clean up for pot industry is now

When federal agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a dozen Front Range medical marijuana shops last week, there was confusion and consternation in Colorado. Were the feds reneging on President Barack Obama’s promise, made earlier this year, not to enforce federal drug laws against those who legally sold or possessed marijuana under Colorado law?

Obama’s promise came with some caveats, one of which was that those selling marijuana had to follow all of the state’s rules and could not be connected to any illegal drug operations.

It now appears those were exactly the sorts of operations the DEA was targeting last week. According to The Denver Post, the raids focused on 10 individuals whom federal authorities believe may have ties to Columbian drug cartels.

If that is the case, kudos to the DEA. It’s exactly the sort of housecleaning that needs to be conducted as Colorado gears up retail recreational marijuana sales beginning in January.

We’re not advocating mass raids or law enforcement harassment of every medical marijuana dispensary in the state, many of which are prepared to become retail outlets for recreational marijuana. Many of the dispensaries have solid records of following the state rules for medical marijuana and cooperating with law enforcement. By most accounts, the dispensary in Palisade fits into that category.

But that doesn’t mean everything is groovy with marijuana in Colorado. As The Daily Sentinel’s Emily Shockley reported earlier this month, incidents of marijuana-related drug expulsions are up sharply in School District 51 this year, compared to the past few years.

Furthermore, as the Front Range raids last week suggest, criminal organizations with a history of involvement in the drug trade may be trying to gain a foothold in the legal pot market in Colorado. It’s no surprise those groups would try to protect their profits, but one of the arguments by supporters of legalization of recreational pot last year was that it would reduce illegal drug trade and the influence of such groups.

That will only occur if law enforcement — with the cooperation of law-abiding marijuana retailers — is able to root out as much of the criminal element as possible.

Doing that now, before the retail market for recreational marijuana goes live next year, is critical. And it is important that the effort be statewide, not just on the Front Range, because even in communities where retail outlets are not allowed, there will be impacts from the legalization.

We realize that neither the DEA nor local law enforcement can tell us whether and how such investigations may be occurring in this region. But we fervently hope they are, and that they result in some weeding out — pardon the expression — of the bad actors before Colorado takes the next step in its ongoing experiment with legalizing marijuana.


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