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'More Organized Criminal Enterprises': Illegal Pot Grows Increase

By Jamie Leary

DENVER (CBS4) - The Marijuana Unit of the Denver Police Department is growing.

The number of undercover detectives has doubled since the legalization of medicinal marijuana in 2000.

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Since the legalization of recreational marijuana, Sergeant Aaron Rebeterano says the problem with illegal grow operations is on the rise.

Right now, he says it's harvest season in Denver.

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"Now is the busy season. It's kind of known as the harvest season for us. People are starting to see the plants grow over the fences and they're getting to a large enough size that they can be seen from public view just by walking by," said Rebeterano.

He and his team are executing between five and nine search warrants a week and says the amount of money that can be made from Colorado pot puts the entire neighborhood at risk.

"These people are not the backyard smokers we've seen in the past which has never been really a big deal and has never been a huge concern to anybody in the community I don't think," Rebeterano said.

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He went on to say, "What we're seeing now is more organized criminal enterprises where they will do anything to protect those grows. Remember there is a lot of money they invest in them and we do see an increasing number of firearms and other crimes associated with them; home invasions, burglaries, robberies, things of that nature."

Another issue that often comes along with home grow operations are hash oil extraction labs. It's not legal and frequently done the wrong way.

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"They explode to such a magnitude that they damage the houses on both sides and that's a big concern for anybody I would think living in the community," said Rebertano.

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While neighbors may not always be able to see plants growing over the fence or know that there is a hash oil extraction lab, there are other ways to identify illegal activity.

"You'll see multiple air conditioning units hooked up and running this time of year and that's not normal. You know, I think when they kind of have a feeling that it's going on usually they're probably right," said Rebertano.

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He added, "Even if they're not right, we welcome them to call us so we can investigate it so that way they can rest assured it's not a grow because that's important to us too. It's important to us as police officers that citizens feel safe in their own neighborhoods."

If you would like to leave a tip for Denver Police, you can remain anonymous.

They have a special Vice/Drug bureau, which you can call anytime at 720-913-6060. You can also call the Denver Police non-emergency line at 720-913-3200.

WATCH VIDEO: Watch 1 Hour CBS4 Town Hall: 'Marijuana In Colorado: Talking With Youth'

"It does represent a major safety concern. We'd like to see the reporting happen more often. We don't feel like we're getting all of the complaints," said Rebertano.

Information on the number of plants Colorado residents are legally allowed to have:

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn't imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.

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