Since the legalization of recreational marijuana, the Denver Police Department has struggled to stash the weed its narcotics officers confiscate.
Now, the department is asking Denver City Council to approve $ 125,116 in the 2017 budget so its property bureau can handle the thousands of pounds of marijuana that comes through its doors each year.
“We’re no longer getting small amounts like we used to,” said Lt. Cliff Carney, who manages the department’s evidence section. “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.”
In 2013, the year before Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the Denver Police Department seized a little more than 500 pounds. Next year, the department expects to seize 11,265 pounds, according to Police Chief Robert White’s budget presentation to council.
The $ 125,116 would pay for two additional staff members to work in the property bureau. The department also wants an additional $ 14,645, in part to buy more shelves for pot, according to the budget presentation.
Denver police seize marijuana in all types of situations — raids on illegal warehouses, searches of private residences and in high schools when teenagers get caught with a baggie, Carney said.
The increase in volume surprised the property bureau, Carney said.
He doesn’t know exactly what drove it, but his educated guess is that marijuana growers became more bold. Before the legalization of recreational marijuana, growers calculated how much they could get caught possessing without bumping a criminal charge to a higher level with a stiffer sentence.
Once weed became legal, Carney speculates, people thought they could get away with large grows.
“People lost track and forgot that law is still on the books,” he said.
Marijuana comes through the property bureau in two forms — fresh plants and dried and packaged weed.
The processed and packaged pot can sit in the property bureau for years as cases work their way through the criminal justice system. And, yes, people sometimes get their weed back, especially if it is property taken by Denver police during an arrest but not connected to the actual crime.
Pot determined to be illegal or unclaimed is sent to an incinerator.
But live plants quickly rot and turn putrid, Carney said. So, they aren’t kept very long.
“You can actually see white mold growing on the plants,” he said. “It’s wet and mushy. You wouldn’t even recognize what it is.”
Live plants arrive at the property bureau packaged in boxes with 10 to 12 plants each. At times, the property bureau has received as many as 300 boxes.
The plants are sent to a laboratory where they are weighed and tested to confirm they actually are marijuana. Then they are composted, Carney said.
As for the burning question about the pot storage, Councilman Paul Lopez asked it during White’s presentation: “I think a lot of people want to know where this warehouse is.”
After laughter subsided, Lopez added, “Just kidding. Just kidding. A mile-high joke.”
The storage location isn’t a secret — it’s at the department’s headquarters on Cherokee Street. But gaining access isn’t easy Carney, said. As one would imagine, security is tight.
“Even the chief doesn’t have access,” he said.