DEA Backs Down After Threatening Colorado Dispensaries

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Jeffrey Sweetin of the DEA’s Denver office on Saturday Feb. 13:

“Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law,” he said. “The time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building and we arrest everybody. They’re violating federal law; they’re at risk of arrest and imprisonment.” [Denver Post]

Jeff Sweetin on Tuesday, Feb. 16:

“We are not declaring war on dispensaries,” he says — though he adds with a laugh, “If we were declaring war on dispensaries, they would not be hard to find. You can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting thirty of them.”

Sweetin makes note of the fact that the DEA hasn’t ever shut down a Colorado dispensary, and the agency doesn’t plan on doing so unless there are aggravating factors involved — like violence, ties to drug cartels or distribution to children.

It sounds an awful lot like Sweetin’s comments over the weekend may have resulted in somebody important telling him to calm the hell down. What goes on behind the scenes with this stuff is a mystery to me, but I doubt Sweetin figured out on his own that those nasty comments about raiding dispensaries weren’t playing well in the press. I’d prefer to think maybe he got a quick phone call from Washington.

The DOJ’s “official” policy of respecting state medical marijuana laws is hardly written in stone, leaving more than enough room for a nut like Sweetin to make a big mess provided that nobody yanks his leash. But if one thing is clear about medical marijuana policy under Obama, it’s that they have no interest in doing battle with the 80% of Americans who support it. This latest episode isn’t the first time one of the President’s drug warriors has back-pedaled after making a stupid public comment about medical marijuana. There are new rules in place, and while they still leave much to be desired, it’s important to appreciate the extent to which the old smash and grab medical marijuana policy has been put in check.

The point here isn’t that Obama loves medical marijuana, or that the DEA can now be counted on to behave itself. Politicians and drug war soldiers don’t change overnight, but the mere expectation that the raids have ended can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy when the media and the public generally believe such activity is now illegal in addition to being unpopular. Imagine trying to convict a medical marijuana defendant in federal court in the current political climate. If you lose, the Dept. of Justice will look impotent during a period of surging marijuana entrepreneurship, and if you win, Obama will get skewered in the press.

So if rogue DEA officials still feel compelled to go around making angry threats in the newspaper, I say bring it on. The war on medical marijuana gets less popular every time they open their mouths.

~ And from the Colorado Independent:

“Friday’s Colorado pot-raiding DEA agent Sweetin sweetened up by Sunday”

Has someone spoken with Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Jeff Sweetin, the man behind Friday’s high profile pot raid in Highlands Ranch? Someone like maybe Attorney General Eric Holder, who sets the policy for federal police agencies? Somebody said something because in the course of two short weekend days, Sweetin went from all agro anti-pot super agent to thoughtful law enforcement officer.

Kinder gentler Sunday Sweetin told the Associated Press that even though he doesn’t believe dispensaries are genuinely legal, he’s not going be going “door to door” investigating them, because there are simply too many.

“It’s up to the state to decide what to do about them and lawmakers are trying to decide how to do that,” he told the AP. “I have to make sure that I’m not trying to become the enforcer and the regulator of medical marijuana because I don’t have the resources for it.”

Here is Sweetin as self-appointed “enforcer and regulator” in the AP story that ran in Friday’s Denver Post, where he said he had been gathering information on dispensary owners and their operations for months:

“The time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building and we arrest everybody. They’re violating federal law. They’re at risk of arrest and imprisonment. Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law… It’s not medicine. We’re still going to continue to investigate and arrest people.”

Calls to the Colorado DEA office have so far gone unreturned.

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