Despite Obama admin’s promise, DEA continues raids on medical marijuana growers

Technically, every dispensary in [Colorado] is in blatant violation of federal lawNothing in federal law has changed. Wanting federal law to be different is not a great strategy….We will continue to enforce federal law, that’s what we’re paid to do, until the federal law changes.” – DEA Agent Jeffrey Sweetin

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Despite Obama Admin’s Promise, DEA Continues Raids on Medical Marijuana Growers

While campaigning in New Hampshire in 2007, Obama said “prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users” is “really not a good use of Justice Department resources.” In a March 2008 interview with Oregon’s Mail Tribune, he said, “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.” (Source)

On Thursday, a Denver news station interviewed Chris Bartkowicz about his medical-marijuana operation in the basement of his home. Bartkowicz, confident of his compliance with state laws, boasted of its size and profitability.

“I’m definitely living the dream now,” he told 9News.

The following day, drug-enforcement agents raided his home, placed him under arrest, and carried off dozens of black bags of marijuana plants and growing lights.

The Obama administration promised in October that the federal government would respect state laws allowing the growing and selling of marijuana for medicinal use, but the Drug Enforcement Agency sent a loud message with the arrest of Bartkowicz.

“It’s still a violation of federal law,” said Jeffrey Sweetin,  the DEA special agent in charge of the Denver office. “It’s not medicine. We’re still going to continue to investigate and arrest people.”

The United States Attorney’s office will decide Tuesday if charges will be filed against Bartkowicz.

In an interview from his jail cell, Bartkowicz said he believes the DEA is making an example of him. He would never have exposed himself if he believed his business was illegal.

“If I knew what I was doing was illegal, I would have never made a public display of myself,” he said. “I would not have put myself in the line of fire if I was knowingly violating the law.”

Sweetin wasn’t surprised by Bartkowicz’ confidence.

“According to him and according to what he’s seen on the news, he probably believes he is legal,” Sweetin said.

And according to Sweetin, it isn’t just growers who face arrest. The dispensaries are next on the list.

“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,” he said to The Denver Post. “Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law.”

Deputy U.S. Attorney General David Ogden told federal agents in an October memo to not target people in “clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

Sweetin said the memo does nothing to change federal law, which makes marijuana illegal.

The difference between the Obama administration’s stated mission to end the “war on drugs” and the actual enforcement of that policy by DEA agents may not come as a surprise to those who have seen the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) budget for fiscal year 2011.

“We’re not at war with people in this country,” Kerlikowske told The Wall Street Journal in May.

But according to 2011 funding “highlights” released by the ONDCP (PDF link), the Obama administration is growing the drug war and tilting its funds heavily toward law enforcement over treatment.

During the interview in his jail cell, Bartkowicz said he realized his arrest is the center of a national debate and defended his right to publicly declare his business.

“I’m the poster boy now,” he said. “If I am legal, why should I be in the shadows?”  (Source: Raw Story)

https://i1.wp.com/extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site36/2010/0213/20100213_014234_cd12potbust.jpg

Some of the marijuana plants that were removed by DEA agents on Friday. (Scott Yun, 9News)

Jailed marijuana grower: ‘I’m the poster boy now’

by Jeffrey Wolf and Jace Larson, 9News

DENVER – The medical marijuana grower arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents after showing his operation to 9Wants to Know says he believes the DEA is hoping to make an example out of him.

“I’m the poster boy now,” Chris Bartkowicz told 9Wants to Know Saturday in his first interview from jail.

DEA agents seized 16 http://www.9news.com/genthumb/genthumb.ashx?e=3&h=204&w=320&i=/assetpool/images/100213044524_02-13-10-chris-b.jpgboxes worth of marijuana from his Highlands Ranch house near C-470 and University Bouldevard on Friday afternoon. It was the same day a news story on his growing operation was set to air on 9NEWS.

“We work hard and aren’t just people who want to smoke pot all the time,” Bartkowicz said. “My intent was to show that growers care for houses. We construct well-made rooms for good growing environments.”

“I figured I was in the right. I didn’t figure I had anything to hide,” he said. “If I am legal, why should I be in the shadows?”

Bartkowicz asked 9NEWS not to give his address in the story. The night before the story ran, a neighbor called to report she suspected someone was growing marijuana in the house where Bartkowicz lived, according to a federal official.

“If I knew what I was doing was illegal, I would have never made a public display of myself,” he said. “I would not have put myself in the line of fire if I was knowingly violating the law.”

The United States Attorney’s office will review the evidence collected and could decide Tuesday if charges will be filed against Bartkowicz. He is also expected to make his first appearance in federal court on Tuesday.

“According to him and according to what he’s seen on the news, he probably believes he is legal,” Special Agent in Charge of Denver’s DEA office Jeff Sweetin said.

Sweetin says even though state law allows for medical marijuana, federal law does not.

Nothing in federal law has changed. Wanting federal law to be different is not a great strategy….We will continue to enforce federal law, that’s what we’re paid to do, until the federal law changes. The only exception to that is discretion and department guidance.” (Source)

He says federal guidelines give him discretion and his focus is on large operations such as the one he believes Bartkowicz ran.

“Discretion is: I can’t send my DEA agents out on 10-plant grows. I’m not interested in that, it’s not what we do. We work criminal organizations that are enterprises generating funds by distributing illegal substances,” Sweetin said.

Bartkowicz said he did not know the number of marijuana plants seized by DEA agents, but video shot by 9NEWS shows dozens of plants in his basement. He also showed 9NEWS his medical marijuana license and documentation for the people to whom he provides marijuana.

“I hope to seek a resolution that conforms to state guidelines,” Bartkowicz said.

Sweetin left open the door to go after medical marijuana dispensaries.

“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,” he said to 9NEWS’ partners at The Denver Post in a separate interview. “Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law.”

An October memo from Deputy U.S. Attorney General David Ogden said federal agents should not target people in “clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana,” the Post reported. The memo led many in Colorado’s medical-marijuana community to believe federal agents would no longer raid medical-marijuana dispensaries or growers.

Sweetin say the memo does nothing to change federal law, which makes marijuana illegal, and instead mostly addresses treatment of medical-marijuana patients and small-scale growers.

The Denver federal prosecutor’s office confirmed it is interested in sizeable operations.

A spokesman for the office said he could not comment on Sweetin’s remarks about dispensaries.

“The U.S. Attorney’s office focuses its goal on prosecuting large-scale drug traffickers,” said Jeff Dorschner, U.S. Attorney’s office spokesman.

– Article from the 9News.

Medical marijuana lawyer Robert Corry has filed a complaint with the Justice Department – “What we are doing with this letter is filing a formal complaint with the Inspector General, Department of Justice which is tasked with investigating waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct. I think these actions yesterday fit all those categories,” Attorney Rob Corry told 9Wants to Know February 12, 2010.

“Dear Office of Inspector General:

Please treat this as a formal complaint of waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct against U.S. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration employees, agents, contractors, grantees, and others who executed an armed raid on or about February 12, 2010 in the Denver, Colorado area targeted against Medical Marijuana patients and caregivers.
These actions are in direct violation of the formal guidelines issued by the Department on October 19, 2009. http://blogs.usdoj.gov/blog/archives/192. The caregiver involved in the raid, Chris Bartkowicz, remains incarcerated after being arrested by armed DEA agents.

The February 12 medical marijuana raid is reported in today’s Denver Post. http://www.denverpost.com/ci_14393797. Rogue DEA agent Jeffrey Sweetin is quoted in the newspaper as opining “It’s not medicine.” Sweetin probably is not trained or educated as a physician, and his opinion is directly contrary to the will of Colorado’s citizens, a majority of whom decided in 2000 that marijuana is, in fact, medicine. Sweetin further comments in the article:

“We’re still going to continue to investigate and arrest people. … 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.”

Sweetin’s comments confirm that the individual involved was in compliance with the law, and confirm Sweetin’s attitude that compliance with the law and the Main Justice October 19, 2009 guidelines is impossible. Sweetin’s purpose in making these provocative and irresponsible comments that “we arrest everybody,” is to strike fear and panic in Colorado’s vulnerable and suffering medical marijuana patients.

The United States Government should stand for what is right and good; and must not be in the business of using assault rifles and jailhouse bars to intimidate powerless Coloradans suffering from debilitating  medical conditions. The rogue DEA agents involved with the raid seized medical marijuana grown for and intended for patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and other debilitating medical conditions as provided in the Colorado Constitution, Article XVIII § 14.

The October 19, 2009 Department of Justice formal guidelines instruct federal agents to refrain from using any federal resources for the investigation and prosecution of individuals who are in compliance with state laws governing the medical use of marijuana. “As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals who are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” The guidelines evidence an appropriate respect for the voters’ will in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

The rogue agents, led by Sweetin, have ignored and disrupted the guidelines and the chain of command, and operate outside of their lawful authority. This action cannot stand, and must not be ignored by the Inspector General or Main Justice. The formal guidelines must be given meaning and effect.  If these rogue actions are ignored, this reprehensible ultra vires campaign of fear and intimidation will only intensify, and people will needlessly suffer. The agents involved must be fired, suspended, or appropriately disciplined so the message is sent that formal guidelines must be respected. The federal government must focus its resources on real crime.  Click here to read more.

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