Updated: April 14, 2014 at 7:50 am
When it comes to quality and potency, Colorado pot is at the high end of the spectrum.
"There is no place in the world where you can buy as strong marijuana legally as you can in Colorado," said Mark Overman, sheriff of Scotts Bluff County, Neb. "It's the most powerful stuff you can find."
Overman is also the operational coordinator of the Western Nebraska Intelligence & Narcotics Group, which covers 11 panhandle counties.
Colorado pot's muscle has also been felt in Oklahoma.
Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control, compares it with cannabis from California.
"It's some of the most powerful marijuana we've ever tested," he said. "Some of the most powerful marijuana we have found on earth is coming out of California and Colorado. It's frightening."
Potency and quality of Colorado cannabis have been on an upward spiral for several years, said Genifer Murray, founder and CEO of CannLabs Inc., a Denver-based testing lab for medical and nonmedical cannabis products.
"As far as potency, there's no doubt," Murray said. "Since we started testing years ago, the numbers are exponentially higher. In the 1980s, it was 3 to 5 percent. Now we have seen our highest pot for THC at 29.4 percent."
That would qualify Colorado pot as "skunk" pot in Amsterdam, where you can buy your marijuana at coffee houses.
There, skunk pot is marijuana with a THC level higher than 15 percent.
The Dutch government has proposed a ban on pot at that level, calling it a "hard drug" that could lead to addiction.
But it's an ongoing battle.
"In Amsterdam, they consider it on a par with heroin if it's more than 15 percent," Overman said.
Why is Colorado pot such powerful stuff?
"Because of the quality controls and standards," said Colorado Springs pot entrepreneur KC Stark.
Stark is the president of Marijuana Business Academy.
He also owns Studio A64, a club on Colorado Avenue that allows its members to indulge, which has become a point of contention with the city of Colorado Springs.
"The market in Colorado has matured enough that it has reached a level of consistency and professionalism," he said. "We are taxed and highly regulated like any other industry and it is quite amazing what that's done to us. We are forced to be remarkably efficient and caring in every step and every breath we take. That's not an exaggeration."
Indeed, Stark said Colorado is drawing California pot producers.
"Many of them are coming here for the jobs," he said.
Colorado pot growers, she said, are "doing things with the plant that we've never done before."
Facilities "are very controlled, versus before when it was mainly cartels growing it outside."
There have also been advances in plant nutrients that have led to stronger, higher quality cannabis, she said.
"It shouldn't be a surprise that things are moving up the scale in potency," Murray said.
In some markets, such as Nebraska, Colorado pot is driving out Mexican weed.
"People don't want the Mexican pot any more," Overman said. "The Colorado pot is way better."
In Nebraska, an ounce of Colorado pot costs about $400, he said. Mexican pot goes for between $100 and $150 an ounce.
"I've spent 17 years as a drug cop," he said. "You can look at this pot, and you can smell it and you can tell by the odor. The people who use pot can tell, too."
It's even packaged differently, Woodward said.
From Mexico, it comes in the form of compressed bricks.
Colorado and California pot is more professionally wrapped, he said. It is packed in air tight, clear packaging.
The displacement of Mexican pot by Colorado pot could have dire consequences, said Tom Gorman, director of Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.
"So you run a retail store and you make $200,000 a week - expect to see Mexicans come into the picture if they see an opportunity," Gorman said. "It's a great resource for them, there's little danger involved and extortion is one of their big ways of making money."
Eventually, he said, "It's either going to be the cartels or it's going to be the tobacco industry. There's a lot of concern about that. You don't think some of the tobacco companies aren't looking at this as the next tobacco industry?"