Almost as soon as the federal crackdown of medical marijuana businesses in Colorado began, marijuana rights attorney Rob Corry told 9News that he thought the U.S. Attorney's Office announcement was a "colossal bluff" and went on to say that he didn't think the U.S. Attorney had the resources to really pull off a crackdown of this scale.
And that sounded right -- how could Colorado, with its extensive pot rules and regulations, be targeted? According to The Denver Post, the state has tracking, measurement and taxation of pot from seed to sale prompting some public officials to say that Colorado is a model of how to properly handle medical marijuana business.
Well, apparently this is not a bluff and the U.S. Attorney is prepared to go all in -- John Walsh, in response to Corry's original statement, told 9News, "It's not a bluff. We certainly have the resources to take action."
Letters have already gone out to 23 medical marijuana businesses in Colorado that are within 1,000 feet of schools, The Denver Post reports, beginning the most aggressive law-enforcement action that the federal government has pursued in the state.
The reasoning behind the 1,000 foot boundary stems from federal law which uses that measurement as a factor in drug crime sentencing. There are many dispensaries in Colorado that are within 1,000 feet of schools, according to High Times, because they were approved by local laws to do so. However, the federal law trumps the state law.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of police officers, judges and prosecutors who used to enforce drug law and are now trying to end the war on drugs, have sent a strongly worded letter to Walsh, pushing back against the crackdown:
Dear U.S. Attorney John Walsh:
As fellow law-enforcement colleagues vitally interested in the health and well-being of children, we must respectfully register our fundamental objection to your recent issuance of 23 letters threatening state-legal Colorado Medical Marijuana Centers and their landlords with civil, criminal and forfeiture sanctions. That you would justify this action on the basis of the locations in question being too close to schools for your liking (compliance with state and local law notwithstanding) is ironic and highlights the failure of the very federal marijuana prohibition policy that underlies the threats in your letter, as we'll explain.
Certainly, you must be aware that the voters of Colorado and the Colorado legislature – like the voters and lawmakers of 16 other states – have made it abundantly clear that marijuana is medicine for many people and for many ailments, and that its use and provision to patients should be allowed under the law.
Almost two years ago, in a bipartisan fashion, the Colorado Senate and House of Representatives enacted a strict dual licensing system for Medical Marijuana Centers that requires a license by the local and state government. All the businesses you have targeted are operating with approval from their local governments and the state of Colorado.
Read the letter in its entirety here.
At the very least, the Colorado crackdown seems oddly timed. It arrives on the heels of the state's Department of Revenue seeking reclassification of marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug as to allow doctors to prescribe it as medical treatment.
There's also the December 2011 poll released by Public Policy Polling showing that a large group of Coloradans believe that marijuana should not just be legal medically, but fully legalized. From the Public Policy report:
Coloradans are even more strongly in favor of legalizing marijuana, and they overwhelmingly believe it at least should be available for medical purposes. 49% think marijuana use should generally be legal, and 40% illegal. But explicitly for medical use, that rises to a 68-25 spread. Just five years ago, a referendum to legalize simple possession by people over 21 failed by 20 points. On the medical question, Democratic support rises from 64% for general use to 78%; Republicans rise from 30% to 50%, and independents from 54% to 75%.
The crackdown also comes just weeks after the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a collective of marijuana activist groups and individuals including SAFER, Sensible Colorado, NORML and others gathered the required signatures for an initiative to end marijuana prohibition in Colorado to appear on the 2012 state ballot.
CORRECTION: The title in an earlier version of this story erroneously stated that John Walsh was U.S. Attorney General, Walsh is a U.S. Attorney. Eric Holder Is the current U.S. Attorney General.