Police target marijuana shippers in Vail | VailDaily.com

Police target marijuana shippers in Vail

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – The Vail UPS Store has become a hot spot for marijuana shipments, and the owner of the store and local law enforcement want it to stop.

Sgt. Chris Botkins, of the Vail Police Department, said police haven’t been able to trace the marijuana back to medical marijuana dispensaries, but the theory is that there’s a connection.

“Our theory is that someone is buying here legally and trying to ship it to somewhere else,” Botkins said.

Jessica Mayes, of the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team, a regional drug task force, said there have been some cases that investigators have been able to trace back to the legal medical marijuana industry.

Mayes said the Vail Police Department has received about 15 calls in 2011 responding to marijuana shipments at the Vail UPS store.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said his office has prosecuted four suspects, three of which resulted in felony charges and one petty offense charge, all stemming from incidents at the Vail UPS store. Mayes said two of those arrests were medical marijuana-related.

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“We know it was medical marijuana based on the commercial packaging,” Mayes said. “The other two suspects were out-of-state residents, so they are not eligible for medical marijuana cards in the state of Colorado.”

Botkins said the Vail UPS Store has been helpful in identifying suspicious behavior, thanks to the store’s right to open suspicious packages for inspection.

“Most of the people that come in, it’s painfully obvious what they’re doing,” said Jim, the owner of the Vail UPS Store who asked for his last name not to be published. “They walk in the door and look around a little bit, say they want to buy a box this big, and hold up their hands in the shape of a bag of weed.”

Then, after a quick trip out to the car, they come back in and continue to act suspicious, he said.

“We ask for their name, they say, ‘Well, why do you need that?'” Jim said.

It’s UPS policy to ask for a photo identification from anyone shipping a package, but driver’s licenses don’t always have valid or current addresses, making it hard for police to track down some of the suspects.

“When we try to investigate those people, addresses and names are wrong, and they usually pay cash,” Botkins said. “We’ve been fairly unsuccessful in making arrests, but we’re confiscating those drugs so they’re not getting to their final destinations.”

And while the suspects have tried everything from peanut butter to coffee to incense in order to mask the smell of the marijuana, they’re often unsuccessful, Jim said.

Botkins said the shipments are often packed into Ziploc bags and then vacuum sealed, but even that doesn’t necessarily hide the scent.

Jim said marijuana shipping has always been a problem at the store, but this past season was “unusually busy.”

He counted about 20 cases this winter alone, some of which included fairly large quantities of marijuana and marijuana baked goods such as cookies and candies which contain hashish.

“Since (medical marijuana) has become legal, it’s become a much bigger problem here – certainly more within the last two years,” Jim said.

Jim said wherever it’s coming from, he just wants his business and his employees to remain safe. He has warning signs in the store that try to deter people from shipping marijuana, but the signs haven’t seemed to help much.

“These people are involving my business in illegal activity. They lie to us and put my business and my people in jeopardy, and that I won’t stand for,” Jim said.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.