NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – In less than six months, recreational marijuana will be legal in New Mexico. So what changes can New Mexicans expect in a new world of legal marijuana? Law enforcement officials in Colorado have a warning for New Mexico.
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Prosecutor George Brauchler was there in the beginning. “What has turned out to be unpredictably bad, is the surge in crime, one, violent crime,” said Brauchler.
Brauchler was a newly elected district attorney when Colorado first legalized recreational marijuana. “At the time I thought ‘we’ll spend a lot of time on cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, which was really starting to catch fire back in the early 2010s’,” said Brauchler. “That turned out to be crack smoke crazy because what I ended up having to do was take this senior prosecutor who runs this organized crime unit now, more than 50% of her time was dedicated to nothing but illegal marijuana grows.”
That was eight years ago. “I was not one of the people that said ‘hey legalizing marijuana is just going to be so very good for Colorado, and my kids.’ I didn’t believe that and I still don’t believe it,” said Brauchler. “I think the evidence is there that it has been overall bad.”
According to that evidence, there are so many killings that law enforcement agencies have trouble keeping track. Brauchler says he’s had 16 murder cases related to the illegal transaction of marijuana. He also added that they have other cases like assaults and burglaries that are related to marijuana.
Tony Spurlock, a 40-year lawman, is the Sheriff of Douglas County, south of Denver. He says legal marijuana in Colorado has helped fuel the illegal marijuana business. “The legalization of marijuana creates… an incredible black market of the bad side, and no one wants to talk about that,” said Sheriff Spurlock. “Yes you legalized it to sell out of this shop under these regulations, but you got 10 houses over here that are illegally manufacturing and selling to kids on the street.”
That’s not counting the illegal marijuana grown to be shipped out of state. “The $4,000 per pound that a pound of good Colorado marijuana will be sold for on the East Coast, it’s been about that amount the whole eight years I’ve been in office,” said Brauchler. “So you’re not seeing a change in the availability of it, you’re not seeing any change in the marketability of it, in the profitability of it, and it’s something that New Mexico is going to see too.”
And these aren’t just mom-and-pop operations. Sheriff Spurlock says these are sophisticated groups including cartels and gangs. Brauchler predicts that New Mexico will also see national and international drug cartels showing up in the state to do their cultivation and distribution.
This summer local and federal agents in Colorado busted a group of 21 Chinese nationals accused of running illegal grow operations across Denver and laundering the money through apps in China. They seized $1 million, hundreds of pounds of marijuana, and 10,000 marijuana plants.
Colorado law-enforcement agencies say that one of the unexpected problems with legal marijuana is that it actually makes it much harder for police to crack down on illegal marijuana. “No longer can they go to the door, and smell marijuana, or even see marijuana plants in a house, and use that as a vehicle to get inside and continue an investigation. That’s not enough because those are legal products now,” said Brauchler.
A study commissioned by Colorado lawmakers spells out many of the changes in the first five years of legalized recreational marijuana. With marijuana legal, arrests related to marijuana dropped by more than half. However, arrests for growing marijuana went up by more than 50%. Brauchler argues even those numbers are artificially low. “There’s no special box to check for law enforcement that says, this is related to illegal distribution or illegal cultivation or both,” said Brauchler.
The men on the front lines of legal marijuana have a dire warning for New Mexico. “What’s the future of New Mexico? An increased amount of crime is my opinion,” said Brauchler. Sheriff Spurlock added that “It’s not going to make your community any better. I promise you, it’s going to make your community worse.”
The Douglas Sheriff Tony Spurlock and former prosecutor George Brauchler both complain that the expected windfall from the sale of recreational marijuana was nowhere near enough to pay for the increased burden on their offices.