- Associated Press - Thursday, July 17, 2014

DENVER (AP) - A man was charged with a series of felonies Thursday for illegally growing hundreds of pounds of marijuana in three Denver warehouses in a part of the city where many legal commercial growers also operate.

Prosecutors said Todd Ray Nelson, 45, used expensive growing equipment and machines in his “large and sophisticated” operations that resembled legal grows but lacked a commercial license.

The case demonstrates the challenges police now face in investigating illegal marijuana in Colorado, where it’s increasingly difficult to spot a legal grow from an illegal one. The area where police say Nelson rented space is dotted with other pot growing operations in nondescript warehouses.

Colorado’s pot laws allow adults to grow up to six plants in their homes, with some exceptions, but commercial growers need a license.

Detectives started investigating in February but it took months to gather enough evidence to charge Nelson with possessing more than 50 pounds of marijuana with intent to sell, marijuana cultivation, processing or manufacturing marijuana and tax evasion. Court records don’t list an attorney for Nelson, and a phone number could not immediately be found. He was released on $50,000 bond.

The Denver Post reported on the grows earlier this week.

Nelson told police in February that he had no plants inside one of the warehouses, but plans were in the works to get proper licensing and construction permits. Yet he refused to let them search the building, from which detectives could smell fresh pot, according to a criminal complaint.

They got a break when a worker, stopped for a traffic offense, reeked of “fresh flowering marijuana” and told them Nelson paid him under the table to tend and trim pot plants in one of the warehouses, according to the complaint.

Police later searched the building and a large growing operation and a machine known as a “twister,” which is used in packaging for distribution. Detectives later learned Nelson was growing in other warehouses, too, the complaint says.

They took more than 2,300 pounds of marijuana from the warehouses, including nearly 1,400 plants.

Prosecutors say other arrests are possible.

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