I was going to write an article about this Saturday, when a reader brought it to my attention, but the details were so murky that I wanted to wait until there was a public comment from the DEA. Such comments have since came out, which made the situation a bit less murky.
Some of the facts are pretty straight forward; the DEA raided the Highlands Ranch home of Chris Bartkowicz on Friday, and seized over 120 marijuana plants. KUSA-TV had recently interviewed Bartkowicz about being a medical marijuana grower, at which time Mr. Bartkowicz made the claim that he was planning on earning ‘around $400,000 a year’ from his garden.
Before any details came out, the pro-marijuana community was up in arms over what appeared to be a clear defiance (by the DEA) of the Obama administration’s new policy toward state medical marijuana programs. In October the administration issued a memo which stated that “prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.” Most people already knew that part of the memo. However, it seems that few people read the next sentence, which states “On the other hand, prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department.”
Here is the link to the memo; EVERY person involved in medical marijuana in ANY way should read it:
Jeffrey Sweetin was the special agent that ordered the raid. He pointed to the memo as justification for his actions. He stated, “Four-hundred-thousand dollars a year goes beyond ‘I’m just a caregiver for sick people.’” Sweetin claimed that he was also concerned about the grow-site’s proximity to an elementary school in a residential neighborhood, as well as the amount of power that was being used for the garden. The DEA special agent also pointed out the fact that Bartkowicz was in clear violation of Colorado law, because he does not have enough patients to necessitate 120 plants.One fact that the DEA didn’t point out, but that is valid, is the fact that cultivating over 100 plants is a federal offense, regardless of any memo or state law. Colorado currently allows 6 plants per patient, which means that Mr. Bartkowicz would have to be a caretaker for 20+ people. A caretaker can be allowed to exceed the limits per card, but only with doctor approval. This can be used as a defense at trial, but only if a doctor can show records that it was discussed with the caretaker PRIOR to the charges being filed. It is unclear whether this is the case with Mr. Bartkowicz.The day after the raid, medical marijuana lawyer Robert Corry filed a complaint against the Justice Department and the DEA, alleging ‘waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct.’ It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Had Mr. Bartkowicz maintained a low profile, this case would be much easier to defend at trial. His lawyer could claim that he was in compliance with state laws, that there is evidence that he was allowed to exceed his limits according to his physician, and that he was simply providing a service for ill patients. BUT WHEN YOU GO ON LOCAL TV AND BOAST ABOUT YOUR POTENTIAL PROFITS, IT MAKES IT A LITTLE HARD FOR AN ATTORNEY TO ARGUE OTHERWISE!!!! The moral of the story here; don’t go public with your medical marijuana ‘get rich quick’ schemes. Preferably, you would be growing medical marijuana to benefit those that really need it, the patients, not for the sole purpose of lining your pockets. But IF (and that’s a big IF) you are trying to make a profit, maybe you should just lay low, and pretend that your income comes from somewhere else. When the local news comes knocking at your door, instead of letting your vanity take over, maybe just don’t answer the door, and go back to the hookah.So what does this mean for the future of medical marijuana in Colorado? One thing is for sure, people need to be on the lookout; especially dispensaries or those that are selling their medicine to dispensaries. DEA special agent Jeffrey Sweetin said that he ‘keeps track of dispensaries and will probe any that raises red flags for him.’ Unless he is reprimanded by the DEA for his actions at Highlands Ranch (highly unlikely in my opinion), Mr. Sweetin will continue his crusade against the STATE APPROVED MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROGRAM. The offender in this case was an easy target, so it is hard to tell if this will become a trend; I guess only time will tell. In the meantime, don’t talk to anyone about your medical marijuana status, either as a caretaker or patient, unless you really trust them. But honestly people, isn’t that what you should be doing anyways???