Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012, a move many said would lead to less illegal cultivation of the drug. But police in Denver now say there’s so much illicit product flooding the market they’re struggling to find space to store what they find.

Officials with the Denver Police Department asked the City Council at a September meeting to approve $125,000 in next year’s budget so the force can keep up with the thousands of pounds of cannabis uprooted and seized each year.

“We’re no longer getting small amounts like we used to,” Lt. Cliff Carney, manager of the department’s evidence section, told the Denver Post. “Instead of 15 to 20 plants grown in someone’s basement, they’re finding 1,000 to 1,500 plants in a warehouse and all the equipment that goes with it.”

Amount of confiscated pot increased substantially since legalization

The amount of confiscated pot has shot up from about 500 pounds in 2013, the year before the first retail marijuana went on sale, to an expected 11,000 in 2016.

In September, Denver Police Chief Robert White told the council his department would use the money to hire two new staffers in the property division and buy more storage space for illicit cannabis.

Marijuana Plants and Police

White said it’s unclear what’s causing the spike but speculated legalization may have made illicit growers more confident. Most recreational and medical pot shops buy their supply from licensed farmers, but the black market and a few shady stores rely on illegal growers.

Illicit growers at reduced risk of arrest

These farmers may have concluded they are at less risk of arrest and prosecution now that marijuana is legal. But Carney said criminal law hasn’t changed when it comes to unlicensed cultivation, trafficking and sales.

“People lost track and forgot that law is still on the books,” he said.

The cannabis seized by police comes in two general forms: growing plants and processed product. This includes dried bud, edibles, and hash oil.

Marijuana Plant

The processed weed doesn’t cause many storage problems, as it takes up little space, Carney said. Sometimes people even get their marijuana back after they’re released, as long as they were arrested on charges unrelated to the pot.

Processed pot goes to an incinerator once it is determined to be illegal and is no longer needed as evidence. But plants pulled straight from the soil tend to rot and must be destroyed quickly.

“You can actually see white mold growing on the plants,” Carney said. “It’s wet and mushy. You wouldn’t even recognize what it is.”

Confiscated marijuana is analyzed and discarded

Once plants are seized, officers send them to a laboratory where scientists weigh them and test them for THC and other cannabinoids, Carney said. The results can later be submitted as evidence without the actual plants.

But one City Council member joked that what people really want to know is “where this warehouse is.” The comment drew laughter, but Carney assured the council potheads would never get their hands on the confiscated marijuana.

He confirmed the storage vault is located at department headquarters, but said almost no one in the department is allowed to enter.

“Even the chief doesn’t have access,” he said.

Tell us what you think: Why is Denver seizing so much illegal cannabis? Is this a good development or bad? Leave a comment below.

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.


  1. R-diddy October 18, 2016 at 9:25 am - Reply

    Who cares! If they are concerned about it, re-sell it back to the licensed dispensaries for a profit as opposed to using tax money to store it (test it of course). Better yet, stop raiding illegal grows, it shouldn’t be a concern in the first place. The more you police it, the more the black market will proliferate. Remember, its a plant that takes 4 months seed to finish, its never going to be stopped!

    • Rod October 19, 2016 at 3:41 am - Reply

      Completely agree, and that will likely be the end result. I think it will just take them a while to figure this stuff out. With so many changes taking place across Colorado, such issues are expected. This is a cost of being the guinea pig model for legalization.

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