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This podcast is intended for mature audiences, listener discretion is advised. After all the robberies, roadside arrests, sloppy handoffs and even sloppier smugglers, Tre found a solution to the syndicate's turmoil. Joe Johnson, a skydiver, was going to fix everything by flying pot through the skies.
Joe not only eliminated the need for drivers, Joe's planes could move a lot of product like hundreds of pounds per flight.
The strategy brought in up to two million dollars a month in cold, hard cash while reducing the chances of getting caught. And that was essential because heading into 2014, trees overhead soared as he reinvested millions into the business. He boosted expenditures on specialized grow lights, nutrient mixes and security systems. He took on more skilled hands and he started making it all look professional, a real corporate enterprise.
It was all in order to make his biggest move yet, everything hinged on it. Our goal was always to be legitimate.
You know, you're talking about people that had families, people that were starting families. We wanted something to be proud of. We wanted something to, you know, to tell our parents about, tell our friends about. This was the beginning of something enormous going legal.
The syndicate's inner circle knew it couldn't hide its activities forever is packing. Buchanan Tree's right hand man in Denver explains the black market was always a means to an end. Even by industry standards, Tree had built something amazing with his network of unusually productive warehouses. He could outgrow most of the legal pot farms in Colorado on both quality and quantity. But the problem was he couldn't sell that pot in the regulated market without a dispensary. As one option, he could try to open his own.
But dispensary licenses were increasingly hard to come by. In Colorado, all municipalities like Denver set limits on the number of dispensaries they'd allow, and by 2014, most licenses had already been snatched up, obtaining one of the few licenses involved.
Competitive bids and lots of questions from state and local regulators. A dangerous proposition for a pot smuggling business.
As a recent transplant to Colorado tree was also less likely to be awarded a dispensary license, even if you did throw his hat in the ring. So like any startup hitting its stride, tree saw his window of opportunity to join forces with an established business in the regulated market.
It was something we always dreamed about. You know, we talked about even when I went to meet him, I said, wow, this is just can you believe you're doing this? This is what we always thought we'd be doing. But the syndicate wasn't there yet.
What would it take to go legal tree would hardly be the first drug smuggler to transition from shadows to sunshine, from the black market to the regulated industry. But what would he have to give up in transition? Could the syndicate reel in a big fish from the legal market even as it found its groove as an illegal operation? And what sort of scrutiny would that open up? Understood that exposing the syndicate to investors would be risky, but as Pat recalls, it finally felt like the right time.
And we've got the numbers. We've got the quality. What more do you need to do?
I'm Chris Walker, your guide in the series about high flying pot smugglers. The rise and fall of a criminal enterprise in the evolution of marijuana's black market in the era of legal weed from Fox Sink and Imperative Entertainment. This is the syndicate. Tree may have been preparing a big play to go legal, but remember, dirty money propped up his whole operation. And beginning in mid 2013, Joe Johnson really did change the game. His drug running finally matched the scale of the syndicate's production.
Granted, when I first heard that the syndicate moved weed across state lines using skydiving planes, I imagine guys jumping out of doors with bales of marijuana strapped to their bodies, you know, like an airborne delivery service for weed, parachuted in for convenience and a slip by the feds. That would certainly be the point break treatment of this only using skydiver's instead of surface servers.
That's right. The rip off takes the finesse in the summer. The reality isn't quite that cinematic, at least from what I've heard.
The syndicate's pod stayed inside its planes.
You already heard about Joe's first hairbrained smuggling run back in Episode one, you know, when he nearly crashed his plane for lack of gas and later flew through in Amoa military operating area and didn't know it.
By the time Joe joined the syndicate, he at least had a few more smugglers under his belt for other drug traffickers in Colorado, Tree didn't know just how inexperienced Joe was.
He initiated Joe into the syndicate with a guided warehouse tour.
These fuckin things were amazing. I mean, he was producing more per plant than I think anybody in Denver.
I mean, he had the best stuff and the volume was staggering. Some months close to a thousand pounds of harvested flower worth millions on the black market.
They were so busy that I really didn't have time to do anything else, which was fine by Joe, especially considering his commission.
The syndicate agreed to pay him 250 dollars for every pound of marijuana he smuggled. Joe pocketed six figures on every round trip between Colorado and Minnesota, all the while managing two skydiving businesses in Minnesota and Texas. Not a bad gig. Here's how it worked. Usually Joe picked up the syndicate's pot from garbage press house. Then he drove to a predetermined airfield.
I would pick different airports, like I would fly into Centennial, get picked up, have dinner, get everything ready, and then I would call my pilot and tell my pilot to meet me at Airport X and I'd be waiting there ready with everything. And no. So nobody knew. I mean, nobody could follow that.
But wait, call his pilot. I asked him about that.
So sometimes you fly and sometimes you had like another pilot. So as I said before, I was a student pilot and flying. We started with only two after I got hooked up with Trees organization, the volume and and and the quantity was so much that it wouldn't fit into a 180 to Joe student pilot's license didn't allow him to fly a plane larger than a Cessna 182.
That's the single Prop four seater aircraft he took on his first solo run to Colorado when he took a hole about one hundred pounds of marijuana.
Unless you put it over the windows, you know, then you can do two hundred pounds. I know this because I've done it.
Usually blocking the windows wasn't the best idea.
So ideally, you want to keep it below the window. But but in a pinch, it goes above the window.
That pinch, as he puts it, being cramped in a four seater with marijuana literally stacked around him like Tetris blocks, just didn't cut it for the amount of weed.
The syndicate hired Joe to move the largest delivery that I made with nine hundred pounds, you know, so physical space is 600 or 700 pounds of marijuana.
Caravans were a full Karameh. So the whole back of the caravan was full.
And that's that's a plane that can fit like fourteen people on benches, seat belted for fifteen skydivers, sixteen in a pinch. You know, I'm not good at space, but I just know the back of the caravan is not a small area and neither is nine hundred pounds of marijuana, except Joe can fly those planes with his license.
So his pilot friend, let's call him Maverick Tag teamed with Joe on the larger shipments.
Joe never told the syndicate about Maverick, a fact that would surprise everyone later on.
All Tre knew was that Joe could move hundreds of pounds of weed at a time and that he'd finally solved the syndicate surplus weed issue. Joe had never seen so much cash in his life.
He vividly remembers his first handoff with Tom Disparate Trees man in Minneapolis.
He picked it up and then left five hundred and eighty six thousand dollars of to bring back the next time I was going to go on my. I'm not going for a couple weeks here, so I can just bring it with you when you go.
So here they're just yeah, just put a half million under it. And the reason why I know it's five hundred eighty six thousand dollars. I counted it twice.
Unbeknownst to them, Joe relished that feeling of counting out the bills, like being in a real life gangster movie. Damn, it felt good. And he wasn't alone. In the growing side of the operation, Bud tenders felt high on life as they pushed the boundaries of what was possible in a harvest. Even veteran growers like Pat surprised themselves that the amount of high quality cannabis they turned out.
Everyone was just amazed because we were we were putting out a product and doing things that no one had ever seen. I mean, it was something to be proud and we were proud of it.
By late 2013, the syndicate put that pride on display. Its warehouses were open for business. The facilities buzzed beehives of activity and not just for growers, but for visitors of all kinds. It bordered on ridiculous. First up, you had fire departments have come in.
We just opened our doors.
They came in with their black and yellow jackets, which was understandably a little nerve wracking for the growers when they first saw the inspection. But to their amazement, the firemen just walked up and down the aisles, cracking pot jokes and checking off a list of building safety codes.
They had no idea they were looking at a massive black market grow.
Neither, as it turned out, did the next round of visitors, cops and people from the city would come in and inspect our stuff and OK.
Denver police, the cops who looked at the syndicates carry giving certificates like they were certified gold. Aaron LORRING, Tres TRUSTe enforcer, couldn't contain his glee.
He got so cocky in front of Denver's finest that the second time they came out was I was pretty ballsy and just figured I'd smoke right in front of them. He has a picture to prove it.
Smoking a fat bull in a parking lot outside a warehouse with a group of cops only about ten feet behind him.
They made it very, very easy to succeed as far as starting an illegal operation. But that's just half of the looky loos I remember one time.
This is funny enough, a tour bus came by people from who knows where, jumping off this tour bus, walking through our factory and pot tourists from Nebraska.
Tourists never want to see a pot farm. This local tour company sent its camera toting vacationers to a syndicate warehouse is one of Denver's premiere examples of safe professional growing.
Pat thought it was hilarious when the tourists started taking photos. Just look into the camera and say Cheetos. And that leaves one last group of guests.
And then there were businessmen that came to the warehouse. I want to know how to put this together. Investors or the suits.
As Alicia Rainey later put it, there were men that came that were just stuff they wanted to invest in a business. They were looking for the opportunity, looking to get in on the green rush.
As the boom in cannabis investment was known, entry was looking for them. The suits were his opportunity to take the syndicate legal. Whether that meant securing political pull to help him an out of stater open a dispensary in Colorado or a chance to sell the syndicate's cannabis to an already existing dispensary chain becoming an exclusive provider, it made sense. Terry ran one of the best growing outfits in the state, and dispensaries competed with one another on the quality and prices of their strain's, both things the syndicate could help with.
So the suits were the most important visitors of all. They got much more than a peek at the warehouses. They got a tour of a highly organized, highly integrated business tree pulled out all the stops. For instance, he introduced them to someone named Doug Dunlap, a.k.a. the science guy. Tre hired him in 2013 to make derivative cannabis products, including edibles and more concentrated varieties called Wax and Chater working what was what you might call waste material.
This was the job that Andrew Cohen originally had before he blew up his basement and quit the business.
By comparison, tree hook the science guy up with a 40000 dollar lab where he extracted THC.
The stuff that gets you high from stems, leaves and other plant matter.
All parts of the cannabis plant normally discarded during a harvest. Like anyone following the progress of Colorado's cannabis industry, Terry knew that edible sales were the fastest growing part of the market for many first time, cannabis consumers, gummies, chocolates and lollipops are appealing because they seem like a fun, easy way to get high incense. You can make them from waste. They were also the most profitable after they'd seen the science guy's lab tree invited investors to sit in on the syndicate's all staff meetings.
The gatherings took place at 10 a.m. every Monday at the Mothership, the nickname for the Vallejo Street Grow House.
Most of the overgrow stuff, you know, people dealing with bug issues or mites or anything along those lines, who was taking down who was going to need help trimming.
Sometimes staffers heard from Trees Sister Lahner, who joined him in Colorado after he told her, we need somebody that can really help with team buildings and things of that sort.
So Lahner began a human resources department asking questions like, what's the philosophy?
What is the culture? What do you want? How can we work together to get the kindling tree?
Figured these were just the type of things that investors wanted to see. The all-staff meetings, the inane company speeches in H.R. Department, a research and development arm, they might as well have come straight out of a self-help book for small business owners.
And there was no mention during these meetings of any illicit activity noted like the fairings stuff in and out of state.
From a forward facing point of view, the syndicate scrubbed any indication it was a criminal enterprise. If tree could cash out now, no one would ever know about his illegal routes. He could move forward without risking jail time or given the types of violent people he dealt with. Worse. But how much did the syndicate's members care about the actual law itself? Well, some members like LORRING thought we'd never should have been made illegal to begin with. We're shifting towards moving on like most of the country wants to legalize it, stop locking people up and take your money.
But they certainly didn't want to lose profits either. And as it stood, the syndicate made a lot of money on the black market. Other members saw hypocrisy and overreach in how the government dealt with marijuana over the decades.
So their feelings about the law were complicated and with good reason. Pot has a complex history in understanding anyone's moral stance on it requires at least a basic rundown of its past. Its worth diverging from our main story for a bit to address how weed became so divisive, which also helps put the syndicates next move in context. To dig into that, we need to talk to an expert, an expert like Emily Doverton.
I am a drug historian and writer based in Washington, D.C..
Deep in the conservative south of 1970s Atlanta, Mike Thebus, the son of Greek immigrants, was a man driven by endless ambition. He had everything a wife and five kids, the largest mansion in Atlanta, and a rumored 100 million dollar fortune. But the success came at a price as the community shunned him and he became entangled in a web of murder, mob connections and love affairs.
It is the money, obviously, that attracts organized crime.
I don't have any knowledge as to what happened to Mr. Hanna. He was a personal friend of mine, and I just think it's a terrible tragedy.
There's no doubt in my mind that they are nervous at best about having to do business with Mike Devis society.
Do not take it seriously when criminals kill each other. So Mike Thebus walked out this door to freedom. Some are speculating he may be in Colombia or Costa Rica, countries which before have harbored United States criminals.
This is Gangster House, the unbelievable story of Mike Thebus family man and the so-called Sultan of smut.
Listen and subscribe to Gangster House right now on Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.
Between the years of 1967 and 1972, over 300 commercial airplanes were hijacked worldwide, this period would become known as the golden age of hijacking.
The new podcast, American Skyjacker is the tale of a small time crook named Martin Mack McNally, who dreamed of the ultimate mile high score. But Mac's hijacking is just the beginning of an incredibly wild, true crime saga. Listen and subscribe to American Skyjacker on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. I reached Emily Duffin by phone, hoping the drug historian could give me a sense of where the syndicate fits within Pott's larger story Deafens 2017 book Grassroots The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America chronicles the prohibition, then legalization of cannabis in the United States when it comes to a belief held by members of the syndicate that the government has overreacted with pot.
It's important to understand that things didn't start out that way because, as Deafen told me during Pott's early days in America, the eighteen hundreds cannabis was relatively widespread and useful.
You could pretty much go to a corner pharmacy in any relatively populated area and get something for have a toothache. I have cramps in my eye. I'm feeling nauseous, whatever. And you could get a tincture that generally had at least some cannabis in it.
But even if cannabis had medical value, you also had a cultural factor, especially once we hit the 20th century as Mexican citizens who are fleeing the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz started crossing the border and coming into places like Texas and New Mexico and Arizona. And they introduced the idea of smoking cannabis recreationally for the intoxicating effects to the American public that started making people wait. Citizens, for the most part, freaked out.
White settlers along the southern border saw migrants smoking cannabis recreationally. They Anglicize its Mexican name, marijuana to marijuana and spread propaganda about the plants supposedly evil effects faster than fact.
These ideas were being put forth in the 1930s was very famously in a in a film called Reefer Madness.
These high school boys and girls are having a hard time at the local soda fountain. Innocently, they dance innocent of a new and deadly menace lurking behind closed doors. One of the burning weed with its roots in hell, smoky of the soul destroying reefer, they find a moment's pleasure, but at a terrible price. Debauchery, violence, murder. Suicide within this atmosphere of hysteria came the Marijuana Tax Act of nineteen thirty seven, which effectively marked the beginning of cannabis prohibition in the United States.
Throughout the rest of the 20th century, America experienced a complicated push and pull between a cultural embrace of weed and the government's efforts to criminalize it. On the pro marijuana side, you first had the hipsters and beats of the 1940s and 50s espousing the creative benefits of cannabis.
It was this underground, very cool, very hip, very avant garde substance.
Then we took on a political bent during the counterculture movement of the 1960s.
There's the anti-war group that is the new left group. There's civil rights groups, there's women's rights groups, there's native rights groups. And of course, not all of these ideas coexisted in perfect harmony. But one person in my book said the one thing that united everyone was smoking pot. Everyone outside the establishment that is on the government side, the anti pot side, you had a different set of protagonists like Richard Nixon.
I think Nixon is so fascinating. He is really the first person to decide that control of drugs, regulation of drugs and determining the criminality surrounding drugs should not be the province of doctors or medical authorities. He unveiled that change in 1970 during a famous address.
America's public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new all out offensive.
Nixon's Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act launched what we now know is the war on drugs. And thanks to him, even today, cannabis is a schedule one narcotic under federal classification.
In Schedule one, drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse and no medical value. And all the way down to Schedule five, where drugs are considered to have high medical value and a limited potential for abuse.
That means in the eyes of the feds, it's as bad as heroin or meth. And if Nixon began to crack down on cannabis, it was Ronald Reagan who supercharge enforcement against it. Bolstered by an army of parents concerned with pot popularity among the youth in the 1970s and 80s, this smooth talking president also had a powerful ally by his side.
Say yes to your life. And when it comes to drugs and alcohol, just say no.
Nancy Reagan popularized the Just Say No campaign and helped her husband gain support for the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
Today, it gives me great pleasure to sign legislation that reflects the total commitment of the American people and their government to fight the evil of drugs, according to Doveton.
The act put the war on drugs into hyperdrive.
What the Reagan administration does so effectively is say children absolutely have to be drug free. Adults should also be drug free. And anyone who sells drugs or uses drugs or participates in the drug trade is a criminal. They're akin to murderers. This is a horrible thing. There's absolutely no saving them. They simply should just go to jail. And there they're absolutely beyond repentance.
But as we all know, that didn't deter large percentages of the population from lighting up. An underground network of dealers and growers and smugglers grew up in the shadows.
Doveton told me something unexpected about the illegal pot trade. In decades past, people celebrated pot smugglers. Back in the day, even the founder of High Times magazine, Tom Facade, had legions of readers cheering on his antics as he flew shipments of weed into Florida using airplanes.
That's right. A pilot bringing in pot for the people sound like someone familiar in the syndicate.
When I mentioned Joe Johnson to Doveton, she says he would have fit the bill as a cannabis anti-hero of the 1970s.
The outlaw status was absolutely celebrated. They were the outlaws who were bringing the good stuff into the country, outlaws like Richard Stratton.
The thing is that marijuana smugglers were by and large a different breed of criminals.
Straten, another famous pot smuggler of decades past, brought tens of thousands of pounds of weed into the U.S. and was a member of the so-called hippie mafia. Strand says that hippie mafiosos only dealt in mind-expanding substances LSD, shrooms and cannabis.
They also took a moral stance on weed. We really looked at the law as being wrong. We felt that ultimately it would be legalized. It was just a matter of time. We thought the government was way off base on it. I mean, I never would have been a criminal if I hadn't been illegal. I wasn't going to rob banks or or armored cars or anything like that, although I can see where was cut off from the adrenaline rush.
His explanation struck me because it echoes some of the same sentiments of several syndicate members. Pat Kincannon, Trees number two, told me when I wouldn't want to do anything that would ever harm anyone.
This isn't, you know, an opioid or anything like that. This is it's you you you have it and you have fun. And you you open your mind and you sometimes get goofy. But the Muslim community but, you know, deep conversations, good friendships, being active, exploring, those were all things that, you know, I was able to do and I love to do still, you know.
So, yeah, I never saw a big forum for like Straten had also thought that the question of nationwide legalization was just a matter of time, no matter what the syndicate did.
And we'll all be laughing at why we had to hide about this for so many years to begin with.
But Stratton points out a major difference between modern groups like the syndicate and the hippie mafias of days past really true true blue marijuana smugglers wouldn't touch cocaine at least before it all changed.
The cocaine blizzard that hit in the late 70s and 80s did, in fact, really disrupt the so-called hippie mafia. And a lot of people who were prior to that kind of nonviolent pot smokers who got involved in the cocaine business, it changed the whole complexion of things. A lot more guns involved, killings in Florida and stuff like that in Miami. So it changed and it gave law enforcement more and more credibility as to as to why they were so-called drug war.
This is when you started seeing the Pablo Escobar of the world, organized crime groups and South and Central America that mixed cocaine smuggling with pot smuggling. They took over the international marijuana trade using violence and threats.
Stratton says that tainted a wholesome, more altruistic mission of providing pot to the masses, a plant used by civilizations for thousands of years to expand consciousness. As for cocaine, he wouldn't even touch the stuff for personal use. Abusing blow didn't just blur lines for someone trying to make a moral case for cannabis. It also tended to make people reckless.
Available now from Imperative Entertainment in Texas Monthly, a new 10 part podcast series called Boomtown about the biggest oil boom in history. Boomtown takes you to a rugged corner of West Texas, where roughnecks and billionaire wildcatters are fueling a boom so big it's reshaping our climate, our economy and our geopolitics. We'll get an inside look at the people cashing in and those whose lives are turned upside down. Find weekly episodes of Boomtown wherever you get your podcasts, in March of 2019, I step foot for the first time into a little farm town called Wonder, a town full of stories, legends and secrets.
And it would change my life. What I unearthed was a story shrouded in scandal and mystery, 50 years in the making, a story with secrets never before revealed. But as I would learn, the deeper you dig, the more secrets you're likely to find buried. Listen and subscribe to in the red clay right now on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
My Palm Pilot, this is my fucking pilot. A guy wades through a crowded bar in an expensive hotel lobby. He snaps a finger, hey, hey, you put it on the tab. And who's that woman over there for her?
One, two, cocaine, girls, booze, you know, money, you know, I mean, we're exchanging half a million dollars at a time.
This was the life, given all the syndicate success, why not have a little fun? I would get into town and they'd put me up in the nicest hotel in downtown Denver.
Joe considered it one of the perks, including the camaraderie, that feeling you get with power and money. Tree pulling up in his white Audi cayler, a.k.a. garbage breath revving his Porsche target before throwing the valet his keys clubbing wasn't really their style.
A scene for unsophisticated street peddlers. No.
After checking into the Hilton, the Hyatt, the Four Seasons, geometry, pat and Cayler at steak houses and sushi dens, sophisticated restaurants for sophisticated palates, whatever you want on the menu, Terry said. And that's what they ordered. Bordeaux flowed, plates of oysters went half uneaten, and sometimes it got out of hand.
Cayler was the mouth, you know, like in here, this is my fucking pilot, you know, and you know. And then so I'm the fucking pilot, you know, I'm you know, and I'm like, I don't want anybody to know I'm a pilot.
But, you know, after some point, you know, then you just embrace it and then you're the fucking pilot, you know, which is the cool guy.
You know, still, Joe kind of wish Cuyler would shut up. Maybe it was the snow talking. He knew it was hardly confined to nights when he was in town. The syndicate's top brass had stash bodies at the warehouses and ceilings behind a refrigerator, sometimes concealing softball sized bags of cocaine. With that much blow around, a lot of money went up people's noses even during the day. State prosecutors later interrogated LORRING about it.
Who else had cocaine issues?
And he did did the most here in Colorado. Yeah, I know. I heard there were times where I'd protect myself, but they're light years ahead. They want to come that way. You want to sit down and cut up lines at eight o'clock in the morning. You're fucking nuts.
I should note that there's no indication that the syndicate dealt or trafficked cocaine. Still, just like Stratton said, the substance tended to take people's eye off the ball. Celebrating the syndicate's accomplishments was one thing. But going into 2014, the excessive partying nights out, drinking and consuming encroached on their best intentions. Maybe it was all the money they were earning or spending, but it wasn't long before people wanted more. Here was that dark magnetic pole greed. It reared its ugly head right.
History was making his big play. Here's how it happened. In his search for investors, Trai narrowed his prospects to two representatives from a Denver based dispensary.
I believe it's on Broadway. And third, it's called Peak Dispensary. It's about a car wash peak.
MJ was a new dispensary in Town Tree, and Pat instantly fell in love with the look and feel of its storefront on Broadway, tucked within a stretch of pot shops that Denverites cheekily call the Green Mile. Here was their dream. A brand new store was slick, futuristic display cases reminiscent of an apple store tree. You could just imagine the syndicate's product filling the glass jars behind the counter. In the dispensary, owners Justin Henderson and Sam Manque happened to be looking for an exclusive supplier.
The suits in the outlaw's started holding regular meetings together.
Tree Sheila Pat lives beyond all of us. SAT in a room at Bellagio and had a meeting with Sam and Justin saying that we were going to grow for that. In particular, they weren't going to grow for patients anymore and everything was going to get transferred over.
Great for the syndicate. Right. But then we learned that the rules for dispensary growing are more complicated than he thought. Thanks to new regulations on the Colorado law books, a tracking system would force him to revamp his entire operation. We'll get into the specifics of that system in a moment. But in contrast to Pott's long and tumultuous legal history, the regulations took root surprisingly fast to bring things full circle. Duffin told me about how the AIDS crisis suddenly advanced the case for medical marijuana in the late 80s and early 90s and is a way to relieve pain, nausea and seizures.
Cannabis helped a lot more than just HIV patients.
It's absolutely due to a growing recognition of the value the drug could provide for individuals.
I mean, you know, everyone knows someone who has cancer, increasing numbers of sick people, those with cancer, those with glaucoma were obtaining pot illegally to ease their symptoms until California made history. In 1996, the state's voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, making California the first state to allow for medical marijuana. That opened the door to. Other states legalizing medical pot until in 2012, voters in Washington state and Colorado approved ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
The governor of Colorado issued a statement today saying it's still illegal in the eyes of federal law. So pot smokers shouldn't break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly. Starting January 1st, 2013, anyone over 21 in Colorado could buy weed a monumental shift, but like a lot of the country, lawmakers in Colorado worried about legal weed supplying the black market. They didn't want legal pot finding its way out onto the streets. So Colorado built out a program to track each and every marijuana plant grown for commercial purposes.
It's called Seed to Sale. The Seed to Sale program requires growers to tag every cannabis plant that's bound for a dispensary with the serial number and barcode. Today, if you walk into any industrial grow house in Colorado, you can see the blue and white tags at the base of each pot plant. The tracking system ostensibly allows regulators to follow a cannabis plant's progression from seedling to mature plant to finished products sold in a pot shot trees caregiver Ru's evaded this requirement because caregivers weren't supposed to be selling their pot, just growing cannabis for a handful of patients.
They didn't need to follow the commercial seed to sale model, but if Tree partnered with Peak MJ, there would be no getting around the tracking system. The dispensaries owners told Terry he'd have to knock down all of his plants in his greenhouses and start over with new ones registered in the state's seed to sale program. Tree blanched, cutting down all of the plants and all of his grow rooms and all of their different stages meant millions of dollars in lost harvests.
Not only that, he'd have to pay employees for months with no money coming in. He'd be in a cash crunch. Assuming it takes six months to get his grow operation back to where it was, Tre might be looking at a 12 million dollar deficit. This merger was far more complicated than he'd thought. Was it worth it? Initially, the momentum of the conversations indicated, yes.
And I think we even signed a bunch of paperwork. But as months wore on, tree grew evasive, stalling on providing even his closest associates a firm commitment until finally an answer. Today, Pat says, looking back and we all would've done it.
But yeah, at the time it was very hard to do because we were doing so well. No go. Perhaps Terry was reluctant to pull back on his lifestyle.
Perhaps he felt that cannabis shouldn't be illegal anyway and all the regulation was unfair. After all, it was just pot, right? They weren't hurting anyone. Or as Pat told me, perhaps he felt the syndicate would have another shot to go legal. And now his organization knew how to prepare. If the syndicate could just line up more of a runway before literally cutting away from the black market, it wouldn't face such a disruptive transition.
I think that we were all just on the top of this wave and there was a chance it could crash down. But there's such a good chance we could just keep writing it and we had to just make these these decisions that weren't the best. But you had started feeling like you had to do that to just keep going. It sounded like arrogance may have played a role, too, that the syndicate hadn't been caught so far. So why assume it be any different going forward?
Rather than give up a bunch of cash now, the syndicate would wait to find a cheaper opportunity to go legal.
Still, Pad didn't know exactly what was going through his mind or what factor weighed heaviest. It was his money in his decision. But to understand the man, you have to understand his background.
We've spent all season talking about Trewin. So what does he have to say? It's time we go meet him. On the next episode of The Syndicate, The Man Behind the Curtain. Hi, Trina. Hi, my name is Chris Walker.
I find out about his past, his influences and motivations and how he reacted once police caught a whiff of his organization.
So in January 2014, one of the detectives from the Denver Police Department, he received a call, a call regarding an issue no one had anticipated.
That's coming up on Episode six of the Syndicate. Oh, and if you liked that section about cannabis history, we'll be releasing a couple bonus episodes after our main series. That includes an extended conversation with drug historian Emily Tufton. The syndicate is a co-production of Imp. Entertainment and Fox Business Inc executive producer is Jason Hoak, produced and edited by Laura Krantz and Scott Carney. The syndicate is scored and mixed by Louis Weeks. I'm your host and creator, Chris Walker.
This podcast was made possible in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Visit the Syndicate podcast Dotcom for more about this story. And don't forget to tell your friends about the syndicate. If you're enjoying it, please leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps more people find out about our show.
From the Westwood One podcast network.