How Has the Legalization of Marijuana Affected Drug Trafficking?

Even though marijuana was only legalized here a few years ago, it has already had a huge impact. Lots of new businesses are setting up shop in Colorado to legally cash in. Taxes from marijuana sales have bolstered our state’s coffers. Arrests for marijuana are down significantly. Even drugged driving arrests related to marijuana have decreased slightly.

But there’s potentially an even bigger impact where drug trafficking is concerned. How so? The effect is two-fold, and whether it’s good or not is incredibly complicated.

Less Marijuana from Mexican Cartels

Our country’s recent changes in drug crimes penalties have allowed consumers of marijuana to depend less on our southern neighbors. Less marijuana has been coming from Mexico since recreational and medical marijuana has become legalized or decriminalized in several states and cities.

In 2011, the U.S. Border Patrol seized 2.5 million pounds of marijuana. But this number decreased to 1.9 million pounds in 2014. Now, don’t think this means drug trafficking from Mexico has stopped. Cartels are still sending hard drugs (cocaine, heroin, and so on) in the same quantities. Still, the obvious decrease in the American demand for weed has to be seen as a positive thing.

It does beg a question though: where are Americans who live in cities and states where marijuana is still illegal getting their drug of choice?

More State-to-State Trafficking

While federal authorities have seen a decrease in marijuana from Mexico, they are more concerned that growers in the states are taking advantage of the law and sending legal Colorado weed out of the state.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been tracking this increase since 2014, noting that they have been seizing more and more Colorado weed from surrounding states each year. However, when the DEA seizes large quantities of marijuana, it is not always easy to identify where it was grown or where it came from, so there are no hard statistics on the amount of Colorado weed that is trafficked out of the state.

But neighboring states noticed the trend and were prompted to take action. Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma have all filed lawsuits against Colorado’s marijuana laws, saying they have greatly increased the use of marijuana in their respective states. Each of these lawsuits so far has been unsuccessful, and federal authorities have not stated any intention to challenge Colorado’s current marijuana laws.

However, it is important to remember that the legalization of recreational marijuana in our state does not mean that everything related to marijuana has been legalized. There are many crimes associated with marijuana that you can still be charged with.

Denver Marijuana Trafficking Lawyer

State Penalties for Marijuana Sale and Cultivation


Even though the sale of marijuana is legal in Colorado, there are penalties for selling unless you are a registered marijuana dispensary. Colorado law enforcement has kept these laws in place to prevent large-scale drug trafficking within the state and throughout the country.

The state sentences for the illegal sale of marijuana are as follows:

  • Less than 5 Pounds: 1-3 years in prison and/or fines of up to $100,000
  • Between 5-100 Pounds: 2-6 years in prison and/or fines of up to $500,000
  • Over 100 Pounds: 4-12 years in prison and/or fines of up to $750,000

These charges only apply to the sale of marijuana. Drugs are classified from Schedule I – IV in Colorado, but marijuana receives its own category. The sale of Schedule I – IV drugs has harsher sentences than the sale of marijuana.

Federal Penalties for Drug Trafficking

Another thing to remember is that when drug trafficking crosses state lines, it becomes a federal crime. Penalties for federal drug trafficking are determined based on the amount and type of drugs involved, as well as the defendant’s history of drug trafficking. The federal sentences for trafficking marijuana (first offense) are as follows:

  • Less than 50 Kilograms or 50 Marijuana Plants: Up to 5 years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000
  • Between 50-99 Kilograms or Marijuana Plants: Up to 20 years in prison and/or fines of up to $1 million
  • Between 100-999 Kilograms or Marijuana Plants: 5-40 years in prison and/or fines of up to $5 million
  • Over 1,000 Kilograms or Marijuana Plants: 10 years-life in prison and/or fines of up to $10 million

Denver Drug Trafficking Lawyer

When someone is convicted a second time for drug trafficking, or bodily injury was caused while the defendant was involved in drug trafficking, his or her sentence can dramatically increase.

Even if someone was initially charged in state courts for drug trafficking, federal law enforcement has a right to take over the case, provided that the crime crossed state lines or involved a federal organization. Consequences for drug crimes, both at the state or federal level, are serious and can result in a felony conviction. If you have been charged with a drug-related offense, contact a Colorado drug crimes attorney today to start crafting the best possible defense.

About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.