SAN ANTONIO - Medical marijuana is not legal in Texas. It’s a point of emphasis the Drug Enforcement Agency wants to make.
“People think its OK to smoke marijuana, it’s OK to traffic marijuana. Well that’s not the case,” special agent Dante Sorianello said. “Marijuana remains illegal federally throughout the country and it remains illegal in the state of Texas.”
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As of June 2016, 26 states in the U.S. and Washington, D.C. had legalized some form of cannabis for medical use.
Voter-driven initiatives in those states have bypassed the Food and Drug Administration’s testing for efficacy and safety, which the DEA follows to make its scheduling judgments.
Texas is not one of those states, but has seen a direct impact from the legalization of medical marijuana across the country.
Sorianello says Texas is seeing a large diversion of marijuana from states where it can be legally cultivated, primarily from Colorado and California.
“It is being marketed here illegally and people are making literally millions of dollars off the illegal trade of marijuana in the state of Texas,” Sorianello said. “That’s where the DEA is coming in and investigating the people trafficking it.”
The profit margin for traffickers and sellers can be substantial. Sorianello said a pound of high-grade marijuana legally bought for $1,600 in Colorado can be trafficked and sold in Texas for $4,000 to $6,000.
In California, a trafficker can buy a pound of high-grade outdoor grown marijuana for the same amount and sell it in Texas for $2,800 to $3,000.
The profit is less, but Sorianello says much larger quantities are trafficked from California to Texas.
Bexar County is in the middle of this new drug war, and has become a staging area with several command-and-control structures in place.
“Mexican-grown marijuana costs more or less $300 to $400 a pound, the THC levels are much lower,” Sorianello said. “The marijuana being produced in Colorado and California is probably the best that’s ever been grown in the world to date.”
Sorianello says the DEA has several ongoing investigations targeting trafficking groups.
He says these groups are importing massive amounts of high-grade marijuana from California and Colorado into Bexar County.
“It’s obviously a key geographical location in the southern part of Texas, from the border, a lot of highways going through here,” Sorianello said. “There’s a lot of finance in the area so you get people engaged in money laundering and investing drug proceeds in the area. It’s a significant strategic location in Texas to have counter drug efforts in.”
The trickle down effect from high-grade marijuana trafficking has led to violent criminal activity on the streets of San Antonio, Sorianello adds.
The DEA is now working with San Antonio police to target street gangs engaged in criminal activity where the root of the problem is drug trafficking.
Sorianello says tracking the traffickers has changed, and the DEA is looking closer than ever at Texas’ northern highways as opposed to its southern ones.
A one-ounce bag of medicinal marijuana is displayed at the Berkeley Patients Group in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
“You don’t have that line drawn in the sand with the border patrol and customs and immigration down there so it’s a little bit more difficult because it’s coming from an area that’s never been perceived as a threat,” Sorianello said.
He wants to be clear the DEA wants to target high-scale, high-grade operations and that will be the challenge moving forward.
“We’re not looking at the guy buying an ounce of marijuana and smoking it on the weekends,” Sorianello said. “We’re looking at organized groups that are trafficking a controlled substance across state lines and engaging in a variety of violations of federal law that range from the trafficking to potential weapons violations to potential violent crimes. DEA does not target drug abusers, they target drug traffickers.”
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