The first legal sales of marijuana in Washington state occurred in July 2014, but black market marijuana operations continue to be a problem in the county, according to Clallam County Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King.
The sheriff’s office enlisted the help of the McKinley Paper Company’s incinerator in Port Angeles to destroy a recent seizure of 58.3 pounds of processed marijuana and 146 3- to 4-foot-tall plants from a recent arrest.
“Incineration has become popular, although it used to be the standard,” King said. “But when the (Environmental Protection Agency) implemented stricter clean air standards, it became more difficult.”
Once or twice a year, two deputies make the trip to Spokane, 355 miles plus a ferry ride, to the 32-year-old Waste-to-Energy trash incinerator.
King said the county has been “out of the business” of marijuana seizure and disposal for so long due to, first, the legalization of marijuana and then the legalization of retail sales that destroying seized plants hasn’t been an issue.
“We didn’t have a problem, but now we are seeing an increase in black market marijuana,” he said.
So King began to research the Washington Administrative Code for laws regarding the destruction of marijuana.
“Some landfills accept it, then blend it into a mulch and bury it, but we decided to contact McKinley,” he said. “They were open to it, so we got a Superior Court order allowing us to conduct the incineration.”
They know they can burn organic materials such as marijuana and heroin and will continue to explore burning other drugs, but King doesn’t want to push the sheriff’s office luck, he said. They can use the paper mill as long as it is licensed and permitted, he added.
This was the first time the sheriff’s office has incinerated marijuana, but it was necessary in this case because the sheriff’s office didn’t have the time to drive to Spokane or the space to store it all, King said.
“Decomposing marijuana is just like a compost pile,” he said. “It’s nasty. We have to do it, but we don’t always have the time to drive to Spokane.”
“The mill’s boilers burn so hot that anything organic will burn. They compress the material and drop it into the incinerator. It burns so hot that the drugs just dissolve, so they don’t impact anyone nearby,” King said.
Since marijuana has been legalized, most people don’t pay attention when they see a large warehouse being used to grow marijuana, but that might not necessarily be licensed by the state, he said.
The legal marijuana industry is upset at black market marijuana, which has ties to all the other drugs, King said.
“Drug suppliers and dealers rarely deal in just one product,” he said.
“Washington is a big source for black market marijuana, especially to the East Coast. It is grown, packaged and shipped out,” he said, adding black market marijuana also gets shipped to states where it is not legal.
Nineteen states, Washington, D.C., and Guam allow recreational marijuana use. Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas and South Carolina prohibit all marijuana use. The other states allow medical marijuana to varying degrees.
As part of the state’s efforts to combat black market marijuana, the State Patrol’s Marijuana Enforcement Team travels from county to county investigating all drug-related activity but focusing specifically on the black market diversion, production and distribution of marijuana and marijuana-related products.
Its detectives are co-housed regionally with drug task forces in four regions of the state. In 2021, the detectives seized 47,586 black market plants statewide, made 82 arrests and seized 11 weapons.
In November 2017, law enforcement agencies in Grays Harbor, Thurston and King counties discovered a large network of black market marijuana grows allegedly run by Chinese nationals. They served 50 search warrants, confiscated 32,000 pot plants, 26 vehicles and $400,000 in cash and gold and arrested 44 people.
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.