Recent busts highlight issue of interstate smuggling from legal marijuana states

Marijuana grown in Oregon and the handful of other states where pot is legal is being smuggled to other parts of America, authorities say. It’s often hard to tell if the trafficked weed was grown legally or illegally, but some say the fact that pot is leaving these states at all puts the marijuana industry at risk.

Related: Legal marijuana states try to curb interstate smuggling to fend off feds

Here is a look at some recent notable cases.

Denver

Colorado officials announced on June 28 they had cracked a huge smuggling ring that, under the cover of the state’s legal medical marijuana industry, shipped pot to a half-dozen other states.

A Denver grand jury indicted 62 people and 12 businesses. It was the largest illegal marijuana operation discovered since Colorado legalized recreational pot in 2012, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said. Federal agents also were involved in the bust.

The indictment says the enterprise produced more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of illegal pot each month for shipment to Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and other states. The ring operated from 2012 until 2016, earning an estimated $200,000 a month, Coffman said.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson thanked Coffman for “exposing the influx of Colorado marijuana entering Nebraska,” the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper reported.

Nebraska and Oklahoma earlier filed a lawsuit against Colorado, saying legalized marijuana in the neighboring state was spilling into Nebraska and Oklahoma, complicating their anti-drug efforts and draining state resources. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit without comment.

Two of the men named in the Colorado indictment were arrested during an earlier traffic stop in Nebraska with 36 pounds (16 kilograms) of marijuana packed into two suitcases in their car.

Bly, Oregon

An Oregon State Police trooper stopped a car that was driving just over the speed limit in a remote part of Oregon, and right away noticed there was only one key on the key ring.

Trooper Austin Hopson’s training and experience told him that was a sign that the driver of the car he stopped on Feb. 12, 2016, was a marijuana smuggler. The road has been known to be used by traffickers seeking to avoid law enforcement, authorities said.

Plus, the passenger seat was full of items — including luggage and a musical instrument case — that would normally be in the trunk, and the driver was nervous. Hopson asked the man, a Minnesotan who was a former cellist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, if he could search the car.

“At this point, for the first time during the stop, the Defendant would not make eye contact with Trooper Hopson. Instead, the Defendant stared down at his paperwork as his hands began to shake uncontrollably,” a deputy district attorney said in a filing with the Klamath County Circuit Court.

The police searched the car without the driver’s consent. In the trunk, they found over 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of marijuana in vacuum-packed bags and a backpack full of cash, the filing said.

The driver was later let go and charges were dropped after a judge ruled police lacked probable cause to search the car.

Llano, Texas

A Texas man was piloting his plane after taking off from Medford, Oregon, in one of the country’s richest marijuana-growing regions, when the aircraft attracted authorities’ attention.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operation Center, in Southern California, began tracking the single-engine plane after observing it had a suspicious flight pattern and landed in Arizona to refuel, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the western district of Texas.

The pilot, Wayne Douglas Brunet, of Austin, landed at an unmanned airport in Bulverde, Texas, but when he saw authorities on the ground waiting for him, he took off again. He then tried to land at the Lago Vista, Texas, airport but aborted the landing when he saw law enforcement officers again.

Brunet then landed in Llano, Texas. He tried to run, tossing a duffel bag and a cell phone near the runway, but was arrested. Authorities seized 15 duffel bags filled with vacuum-sealed packages of 230 pounds (104 kilograms) of marijuana.

Brunet pleaded guilty on June 28 to possession with intent to distribute marijuana and faces up to 20 years in federal prison. According to a plea deal, he forfeits his 1969 Piper PA-30 Comanche airplane, $5,400 in cash and $3,000 in prepaid cards.

Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter: @andrewselsky



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