02/27/2012 10:39 am ET Updated Feb 27, 2012

Medical Marijuana: Deadline Reached For Colo. Dispensaries Near Schools To Move Or Shut Down

The deadline for Colorado's medical marijuana dispensaries that are located within 1000 feet of a school has arrived -- the pot shops must comply with a federal order to move or shut their business down today or face the consequences from the U.S. attorney's office which has vowed to take action against dispensaries, The Denver Post reports.

It appears as if the 23 businesses that received letters stating they were too close to schools are taking the threat very seriously. "Everyone I know of is planning on shutting their business down," Executive Director Mike Elliott of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group said to The Denver Post.

Letters were sent out to 23 medical marijuana businesses in Colorado mid-January in what is the most aggressive law-enforcement action against the medical marijuana industry 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.

Almost as soon as the federal crackdown of medical marijuana businesses in Colorado was announced, 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 that U.S. Attorney John Walsh had the resources to really pull off a crackdown of this scale.

However, U.S. Attorney John Walsh made it clear that this is not a bluff and he is prepared to go all in if businesses do not comply with the federal order. In response to Corry's original statement, Walsh told 9News, "It's not a bluff. We certainly have the resources to take action."

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.

The Colorado crackdown does seem oddly timed. It arrives just months after 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%.

While the feds crackdown on medical marijuana shops, the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a collective of marijuana activist groups and individuals including SAFER, Sensible Colorado, NORML and others is pushing for full legalization for adults. After a second round of signature gathering, the group believes it has gathered the required signatures for an initiative to end marijuana prohibition in Colorado to appear on the 2012 state ballot.