Deputy Wyatt Bishop is pictured with the Phillips County Sheriff’s Office’s new K-9 unit, Sabre. The dog, which is a German shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix, began training Nov. 6 and will officially start work in about two months. — Johnson Publications photo

Sheriff pursues grant to find and destroy illegal marijuana

    It’s been six years since Colorado voters passed Amendment 64, allowing of‑age residents to buy, sell and grow recreational marijuana.
    However, Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliott said new laws haven’t stopped street dealing and ille­gal grows in the county and across the state.
    “It was a joke for the state of Colorado to think legalizing marijuana would solve the problem,” he said. “There is still a big problem.”
    Now the Phillips County Sheriff’s Office is applying for a state grant which would help fund efforts to find and destroy grey and black market marijuana.
    Rural areas are one of the four funding priorities of the Gray and Black Market Marijuana Enforcement Grant Program, which is being offered through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Other priorities are large-scale and organized crime operations, and operations that divert marijuana outside of Colorado.
    A total of $6 million is being offered through the program. Elliott said Phillips County was one of the first counties to apply for the grant. The office submitted its application around the beginning of October.
    If approved, grant funding will go toward training and equipment for the office’s new K-9 unit, supporting the district attorney in the prosecution of marijuana cases and other enforcement efforts.
    Elliott said the K9 could be used during traffic stops to sniff out narcotics or as part of other searches. Undersheriff William “J.R.” Myers also suggested the purchase of a drone, which could be used to fly over properties suspected of growing marijuana illegally.
    Elliott noted that investigating these properties with a drone would not require a warrant, as long as the drone maintains a certain altitude.
    Although Amendment 64 permitted the private recreational use of marijuana, it also allowed local governments to decide the extent to which marijuana businesses could operate within their jurisdictions. Holyoke and Phillips County both place tight restrictions on the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of marijuana.
    Gray and black market marijuana includes marijuana grown illegally or sold outside of licensed facilities. Elliott said criminal organizations still profit from illegal marijuana sales in Colorado.
    The grant was also mentioned at the Oct. 31 meeting of the Phillips County Board of Commissioners, where commissioners said they had met with Elliott and Myers to discuss the grant and the purchase of their new K-9.

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