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Emily Welker, Published March 06 2013

Police: Marijuana bust shows effect of drug’s legal status

MOORHEAD – Police here say a bust in Dilworth on Tuesday in which officers allege they found 32 pounds of marijuana is the largest ever stash of pot the Moorhead Police Department has seized.

But the origin of the marijuana is as notable as its record-setting heft. Lt. Tory Jacobson said it is high-grade medical marijuana from California – one of the 20 states in the U.S. where marijuana possession and use is legal under state law with a prescription, though federal law still prohibits it.

Police in Fargo-Moorhead say they are seeing the local effects of the relaxed pot laws elsewhere – including the legalization of recreational possession in Colorado and Washington.

Officers arrested Lawrence Kent Brink, 33, at his home at 404 2nd Ave. NW on Tuesday afternoon, after police executing a search warrant seized marijuana as well as small amounts of psychedelic mushrooms and hash oil/powder, an assault rifle similar to an AK-47, $25,000 in cash and a 2001 Chrysler.

Brink is being held at the Clay County Jail on suspicion of fifth- and third-degree felony drug possession as well as ineligible possession of a firearm, also a felony. He also faces potential gross misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and a misdemeanor drug paraphernalia charge.

“We are happy. It’s a nice thing to get off the street,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said authorities in California tell him people who are licensed there to grow medical marijuana, often much stronger than the recreational drug, are producing extra amounts for illegal, highly lucrative sales elsewhere. He said the problem also appears to be originating in Colorado.

When medical marijuana shows up in the region, it is much more potent than any of the marijuana varieties seen on the street in years past, Jacobson said.

Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel agrees there has been a recent noticeable increase in marijuana imported into the community from states that have legal marijuana, although it’s not always easy to figure that out.

“It’s not like it’s stamped ‘California’ – we have to rely on the intel,” he said.

Vettel said the department is sharing intelligence with other agencies about who the sources of the drugs are, and monitoring the situation.

“Anytime we have the potential for marijuana activity to be increased, that certainly concerns us,” he said. “We’ll do all we can do to prevent that illegal activity.”

Vettel added it might be the availability of medical marijuana that is more alluring to potential traffickers, rather than its potency.

“It’s not quality, but availability,” he said.

West Fargo Assistant Chief Michael Reitan said his department is also dealing with medical marijuana issues in the city, although not with large quantities. Instead, he said, people present prescriptions for medical marijuana from other states when West Fargo officers question them about marijuana possession.

“Of course, it does them little good in North Dakota,” Reitan said.

Tuesday’s seizure was the heaviest haul of marijuana for Moorhead police ever but not necessarily the highest-valued bust. It was estimated to be worth about $250,000 in street prices – comparable to the street value of prior large busts.

“Every year we run the citizens’ academy, and each year, everyone is shocked by the amount of narcotics we get in the community every year,” he said.

Jacobson said the Department of Homeland Security assisted Moorhead police in the investigation that led to Tuesday’s bust, along with the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, and he stressed the importance of interagency cooperation.

He also said it was an ongoing investigation.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541