Reporter Speaks on DEA Organized Crime Claims

Earlier in April, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration claimed in a TV news broadcast that campaigns to legalize marijuana in Denver and throughout the state had increased organized crime in Colorado.

The agency received harsh criticism from legalization proponents when it later admitted that there was no hard data to back up the statements and that the conclusions were made from agent observations.

Now the TV reporter who authored the original story that sparked the dust up has weighed in on the issue.Denver CBS Channel 4 news anchor Karlyn Tilley broadcast the report, where DEA special agent in charge Jeffrey Sweetin cited laws to legalize small amounts of marijuana in Denver and a failed state ballot initiative to do the same thing as making Colorado a good market for drugs and organized crime.

The broadcast on Channel 4 also used images taken from a methamphetamine raid, with no indication that the operation was not targeting cannabis drugs.

Tilley responded to Colorado Confidential via e-mail to questions over data in the news report and the choice to use footage of the methamphetamine raid:

The DEA did not share any hard data to show the connection. They said that since the laws changed, the organized crime organizations they’ve seen move into the area have also increased, and that’s what I said in my story.

[Sweetin] also mentioned some surveillance they had done which indicated that certain crime groups felt that way… but obviously wouldn’t/couldn’t share that with me… so I didn’t get into that in my piece.

I did not seek out other sources because the story (in my opinion) was the DEA. It wasn’t about some raid that had happened which involved multiple agencies or anything like that. It was an opportunity to get a one-on-one interview with the local head of the DEA and find out what they were up to. I referenced in my story several times that what I was talking about was said by the DEA and only the DEA… not anyone else.

As far as the video is concerned, my photographer and I both agreed we could use the raid video when we were talking about drugs in general… then use the marijuana video when I specifically referenced that drug. The idea was to give people a look at what they do… at drug busts in general.

Denver voters passed an initiative legalizing personal possession of up to an ounce of the substance for adults 21 years and older in 2005, and another measure to make such cases a “lowest law enforcement priority” for police in 2007.

A state ballot measure to legalize an ounce of pot for adults failed by approximately nine percent in 2006.

Readers can watch the broadcast here.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at

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