Pot dealers hurry west to make fortunes off medical marijuana
By Frank Main Staff Reporter November 3, 2011 12:52AM
FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2009 file photo, a worker at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic prepares packets of marijuana buds for sale in San Francisco. Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in California would sharply drive down prices for the drug, causing more people to use pot while possibly undercutting the tax windfall that supporters have touted, according to a study published Wednesday, July 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, file)
- Chicago's Pot Dilemma, Part I: Should marijuana users be ticketed?
- Part II: Chicago’s new Scarface: Joaquin ‘Chapo’ Guzman runs Chicago's marijuana trade
Updated: December 4, 2011 8:05AM
Young entrepreneurs — some from Chicago — have been heading west over the last decade to make their fortunes in the “green rush,” the booming business that supplies marijuana in states where smoking weed as medicine is legal.
Police say former Chicago mortgage broker Ryan R. Bailey is one of them.
The affable, shaggy-haired businessman moved to Colorado where he was busted earlier this year on a charge of growing hundreds of marijuana plants illegally in a warehouse.
Bailey, 29, also was arrested in a separate case last year in Chicago after he was caught in a Northwest Side home with 42 pounds of pot that had been sent to Chicago through United Parcel Service.
Police say Bailey is part of an industry that’s now one of the biggest suppliers of high-quality marijuana in Chicago.
Medical marijuana growers peddling boutique bud — the stuff that lawyers, stockbrokers and anyone else with the cash in Chicago is smoking — are second only to Mexico’s drug cartels as the city’s top pot importer.
They legally supply licensed dispensaries out West and sell their surplus in states where pot is illegal — and goes for twice the price, police say.
Bailey is not charged with mailing the marijuana found in the Northwest Side home. He was hit with a possession charge.
He would not comment on his pending criminal cases but did speak about his frustration at landing in court.
“Some people in the industry have gotten lucky,” Bailey said. “Other guys like me have gotten caught in the system.”
‘THE GOOD STUFF’
Chicago Police Sgt. Brad Williams specializes in seizing packages of marijuana shipped by UPS, the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Express and other services.
“At least 50 percent of everything I get is from one of the states where it is legal to grow it — Colorado and California — and marked with kid-catchy names like ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Orange Crush.’ Each pound bag will have a label. Sometimes we will also get small one-ounce samples, different flavors of weed to try,” Williams said.
He said his officers snatch at least one package coming from California or Colorado every day.
“I used to get 20-pound boxes, three or four a week, of the hard, compacted generic marijuana that you needed a saw to break off,” he said. “Now it’s a steady stream of 1- or 2-pound packages of sinsemilla.”
During an interview at his office in the Chicago Police Narcotics Division, Williams grabbed a plastic evidence bag of sinsemilla and unzipped it.
The bag contained sticky green buds interlaced with red hairs. They looked like miniature Christmas trees.
Suddenly, the whole room filled with the thick, pungent, evergreen aroma of marijuana.
“This is the good stuff,” Williams said.
The good stuff from Colorado and California can fetch $350 or more an ounce in Chicago, compared to $145 an ounce or less in dispensaries in those states. It’s typically grown indoors under special lights and sometimes in hydroponic conditions.
By contrast, cartel weed, which is generally grown outdoors and has lower levels of THC — the active chemical in marijuana — sells for under $150 an ounce here.
“If you have a friend who goes out and smokes on the back porch with other professional guys, sinsemilla is what they’re smoking,” said Williams, who was involved in Bailey’s 2010 arrest in Chicago.
BUSTED IN CHICAGO
On Tuesday, Bailey wore a camel-hair jacket, blue shirt and olive tie in a Windsor knot to the Cook County Courthouse at 26th and California, where he faces charges stemming from his March 9, 2010, arrest in Chicago.
A drug-sniffing dog at a UPS facility had alerted police to two large packages from California. Chicago Police narcotics officers opened them and found blue Tupperware containers loaded with a total of 42 pounds of weed.
The officers set up a sting and delivered the packages to a home in the 5100 block of North LaCrosse. The labels on the packages said they were from a law firm in California and were going to a design company.
Jason Duda, a man in the home, signed for the packages from an undercover Chicago cop posing as a deliveryman. Bailey had agreed to pay Duda $200 to accept the packages, prosecutors said.
When officers burst into the home with a search warrant, they allegedly found Bailey on a couch holding a bundle of marijuana. He tossed it into an open box on the floor, police said.
Bailey allegedly told police he flew from Colorado to Chicago that morning. He also admitted he had opened one of the packages, police said.
Police seized the pot, valued at $304,000. They also said they took about $5,000 in cash and $6,000 in blank money orders from Bailey.
Duda and Brandon Sieczko, another man in the home, pleaded guilty to felony drug charges and received probation. They also faced gun charges because of a 9mm handgun and a shotgun found in the home, but those charges were dropped.
Bailey pleaded not guilty and was released in lieu of $175,000 bond. He’s currently on trial, with closing arguments scheduled for Nov. 18.
Less than a year after he was arrested in Chicago, Bailey stepped into trouble with law enforcement officials again — this time in Colorado.
In March, police raided a warehouse in Commerce City, just north of Denver, and found about 670 marijuana plants Bailey was growing there, said Jerry Peters, commander of the North Metro Task Force outside Denver.
The warehouse was divided into rooms for different stages of growth of the plants. There were ventilators and vats of pesticide and fertilizer.
Bailey, who gave police a home address in Golden, Colo., possessed a Colorado medical-marijuana card. He allegedly told police the card entitled him to grow the plants for other patients.
Colorado law says a medical marijuana patient can grow up to six plants a month for personal use, Peters said. If a patient is a “caregiver,” he can grow pot for five other patients, each of whom can have six plants, too. The law is fuzzy about whether patients can grow more plants than that if they can demonstrate a need, Peters said.
“But six people could not possibly consume 670 plants in a month,” he said.
Peters said the growing operation was in violation of Commerce City’s ordinances. The city doesn’t allow growing operations where Bailey’s warehouse was located, he said.
Bailey is awaiting trial in Colorado on a felony charge of cultivating 30 or more marijuana plants illegally.
In a strange twist, police said they were required to turn over the 670 marijuana plants to Bailey. Otherwise, they could be required to reimburse Bailey for the street value — possibly millions of dollars — if the plants were destroyed and Bailey was later found not guilty, Peters said.
Asked if growers like Bailey are expected to turn their plants back in to police if they’re convicted, Peters said: “That doesn’t normally happen. This is just a terrible law.”
Bailey’s wife, Amber Cook, has been operating a medical marijuana dispensary, Grass Roots Organica, in a small house in Denver, authorities said.
Cook, who holds a state license to operate the dispensary, advertises her line of marijuana products on the Internet along with other alternative-medicine treatments. Her website extols the virtues of marijuana as a treatment for everything from endometriosis to irritable bowel syndrome. Some strains of her marijuana are better for pain relief while others combat nausea or epilepsy, the website says.
Cook isn’t accused of wrongdoing.
TAKING TO THE AIR
Medical marijuana growers often mail their pungent product to Chicago in quantities ranging from 5 to 50 pounds.
“We are getting tons of cases involving marijuana going out in the mail to Chicago, Texas, you name it. They are growing it quote-unquote ‘legally’ in Colorado and shipping it out illegally,” Peters said.
But they’re increasingly taking to the sky to avoid the risks of transporting marijuana on the interstate highways, said Jeffrey Padilla, deputy director of the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group.
In Lake County, three men are accused of flying 170 pounds of medical-grade marijuana from California to Waukegan in a twin-engine Beech Baron in May.
The pilot, Michael Fejer, of Oceanside, Calif., and his brother, Nicholas Fejer, were delivering the load to Brian Daugherty of Chicago, police said.
Police arrested the Fejers at Waukegan Regional Airport and seized the plane, estimated to cost about $100,000. Officers also arrested Daugherty and confiscated $500,000 found in his car, Padilla said. Prosecutors are moving to take possession of the plane and cash.
Nicholas Fejer, 23, and his 27-year-old brother have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Charges are pending against Daugherty, 31.
“Throughout Lake County, we are seeing marijuana that was intended to be used as medical marijuana being transported and sold here for a much higher price for use as a recreational drug,” Padilla said. “We believe there are loads of that significance coming into Lake County on a monthly basis.”
The customers are guys who are “tired of ditch weed” from Mexico.
“Believe me,” Padilla said, “there are a lot of those guys out there now.”
COMING FRIDAY: Pot smokers speak out. And the health concerns over pot.