May 25 (UPI) -- Dozens of people were arrested during a three-day sweep that U.S. law enforcement officials called the largest black-market marijuana bust in Colorado.
In all, 42 people face state and federal charges, after law enforcement officials seized more than 80,000 marijuana plants and 4,500 pounds of "finished marijuana products" from homes throughout the Denver metro area.
Those charged with crimes of 1,000 or more plants may face up to life prison.
"Colorado has become the epicenter of black-market marijuana in the United States," said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, in a press release Friday. "It's impacting communities, it's impacting neighborhoods, and it's impacting public safety. But this investigation may be just the tip of the iceberg. We will, therefore, continue to pursue black market growers and prosecute them to the full extent of the law."
In the summer of 2016, investigators began looking into the "Asian Pride Drug Trafficking Organization," which was suspected of buying drugs from the "Chinese Drug Trafficking Organization."
Over the past two years, investigators executed search warrants on 227 homes and eight businesses across the Denver metro area.
The arrests resulted in the seizure of 41 homes, $2,160,776.89 in cash, 25 vehicles and three pieces of jewelry.
The law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation included the U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"Unfortunately Colorado is no longer known for its beautiful mountains and scenery," said DEA Denver Division Special Agent in Charge William T. McDermott, in a press release. "Now it is known for marijuana and other illegal manufacturing and distribution of controlled substances. This investigation highlights that law enforcement and prosecutors are committed to the rule of law and ensuring Colorado returns to its former standing."
Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2012 in voter referendums.
"If you legalize marijuana and allow it to be grown in homes this is what you can expect to happen," George Brauchler, the district attorney of Arapahoe County near Denver, told reporters.
Any adult resident of Colorado may grow up to six plants per person, with no more than three plants in the mature/flowering stage at any time, according to Leafy.com, a cannabis information resource.