DEA Disregards Obama and Holder on Medical Marijuana

9 News in Denver was doing an investigative report on marijuana growing in the suburbs. A marijuana patient named Chris Bartkowicz who lives in a $600,000 home volunteered to participate. He said he wanted to show how marijuana growing could be done legally. He gave the news team a tour of his basement which had 2,000 square feet of growing plants. He showed them licenses and the licenses of those to whom he provided marijuana (Under Colorado's Constitution, every patient can have six plants, and patients can designate a caregiver to provide the plants to them. So a caregiver with 100 patients can grow 600 plants.)

The station ran a "tease" of the report Wednesday night. Yesterday, the DEA paid Bartkowicz a visit and took away all his plants and equipment.


Last night, after the Olympics, 9 News had the head of Denver's DEA on to explain the bust. DEA Agent Jeffrey Sweetin said he had no doubt Bartkowicz thought what he was doing was legal, but it's illegal under federal law and until federal law changes, DEA is going to continue making busts.

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."

But, wait, didn't Attorney General Eric Holder, with approval of President Obama, issue an official memorandum (pdf) last October saying they would not prosecute medical marijuana cases that were in compliance with state law? Yes. Did the memo exempt "big" grows or dispensaries? No.

But here's Sweetin tonight on dispensaries:

I just got off the phone with a Denver Post reporter who said, "Well, you're certainly not going after dispensaries" to which I answered, "Who said I'm not?"

So what is Sweetin saying? Besides thumbing his nose at Obama and Holder, he's saying DEA, which is an agency within the Department of Justice, can go rogue and disobey DOJ policy.

So what happens now? If Bartkowicz was legal under state law -- if the total amount of plants he had did not exceed 6 times the number of persons who had designated him as a caregiver, the U.S. Attorney's office should decline to prosecute.

If he had more than the allowed number of plants, or if the U.S. Attorney's office also decides to go rogue, Bartkowicz is going to face criminal charges, and the feds will try and forfeit his $600,000. home.

According to the Denver Post, Bartkowicz said he would make between $100,000 and $400,000 a year growing marijuana.

One has to question why Bartkowicz decided to publicize his business. But the story here isn't him, as much as it the DEA's blatant disrespect for DOJ policy. It would be one thing if Sweetin had said Bartkowicz was wrong about being in compliance with state law, and because he wasn't in compliance, DEA moved in. But he didn't say that. He clearly said the DEA doesn't care about compliance with state law -- particularly if the grow is big. They are there to enforce federal law and growing marijuana is illegal under federal law.

DEA says they will destroy Bartkowicz's plants regardless of whether charges are filed. Can they do that without being liable for the value of the plants? State law enforcement has been held liable for wrongful seizure of plants. The answer is probably yes, because DOJ policy is not law and is not enforceable by the courts under the Petit policy.(Federal courts have held that a criminal defendant can not invoke the Department's policy as a bar to federal prosecution.)

So again, while Sweetin is accurately stating the law, he's thumbing his nose at Obama and Holder and official DOJ policy. Will that get him fired? Probably not, which should be a sign of how little commitment the Obama Administration really has towards medical marijuana and state laws that allow it. All the more reason for Congress to pass a law disallowing prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers who are in compliance with state law -- or at least allowing them to raise compliance as an affirmative defense.

Bartkowicz has stopped giving interviews. A decision on charges may come Tuesday.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Just another example (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by scribe on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 07:49:05 AM EST
    of how neither Holder's nor Obama's word is worth sh*t.

    Not a surprise (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by glennmcgahee on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 08:14:08 AM EST
    Some of us saw this coming as Obama again says one thing and does another:

    Meet the new boss (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Zorba on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 08:17:02 AM EST
    .....same as the old boss.  And I'm not just talking Leonhart- I'm talking Obama, in far too many ways.

    we (5.00 / 0) (#4)
    by JamesTX on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 10:34:05 AM EST
    have been fooled again, and I think we are about out of time and options. This country is not going to be a very nice place to live in a few years for most of us. That is clear.

    It's already not a very nice place (none / 0) (#6)
    by Zorba on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 11:26:05 AM EST
    for far too many people in this country, and as you suggest, it's only going to get worse.  We're long past the "fool me twice...." stage with Obama, all right.

    No Different Than... (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by bselznick on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 11:38:44 AM EST
    This is just like being married to a sex addict.  In the morning you get an endless stream of "I'm sorry" and "I love you", but later that day your partner is out screwing everyone in the neighborhood.  Democrats, and specifically Obama, give us good speeches, but then they go out and screw everyone in the neighborhood.  

    Words of wisdom here, they are not going to change.  Obama and Dems will continue to speak liberal and act conservative.  Electing Dems who only further an agenda that worsens our condition is not building a movement, it's being codependent, or should I just call it being stupid.  

    At some point you have to get a divorce!  Cut your losses and move on.  Unfortunately the only other real political party, the GOP, would be like swapping out the sex addict for a working prostitute.  We only get the lesser of two evils.  Thank God for the freedom.

    National Month of Deregistration from Dem Party (none / 0) (#8)
    by jawbone on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 12:15:28 PM EST
    MIGHT have some impact on the party.  But I don't hold out much hope: There's just too much corporate money around and too many pols who need it in order to run campaigns.

    Plus, once pols get to DC, the Beltway virus seems to take over their ability to comprehend things.  It might just be spun as a need to move ever farther to the Right. Help!

    Luuuuuvvvvv your metaphor, bselznick.


    I think you are right... (none / 0) (#9)
    by JamesTX on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 01:00:40 PM EST
    It's our fundamental misunderstanding of economics and laws of large numbers. They work for the corporations...not us. And there isn't any way the people can match that money. At least they can make deals with the corporations, and they have something they can count on. With the population, they are slaves to constant shifts of opinion and whim that they can neither predict nor control; so they, like any good college student, opt to mind dad and live off his money than to venture out into the real world.

    please stay on topic (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 02:11:38 PM EST
    of the marijuana policy, thank you.

    Sorry, Jeralyn-I was thinking of Michael Brenner's (none / 0) (#13)
    by jawbone on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 09:19:42 PM EST
    piece at HuffPo, Obama vs. Obama.

    This struck me as related to that: Does Obama/WH know what DEA is doing -- or not.  If they do, why is it happening, etc.

    Actions speak so very much louder than words. I should have made the connection clear.  


    The photo of the marijuana farmer/cancer patient (none / 0) (#14)
    by jawbone on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 09:22:02 PM EST
    is so painful to look at.  

    Why waste the time/money/effort on this kind of drug "bust"? Easy pickings.


    Wishing Federal Law (none / 0) (#5)
    by JamesTX on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 10:39:46 AM EST
    to be different is a perfectly good strategy for conservatives and corporations. They get it changed on demand to suit their needs as a first order of business in every session.

    Why do people keep believing politicians? (none / 0) (#10)
    by roy on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 02:05:41 PM EST

    One way Holder can get the DEA to comply (none / 0) (#12)
    by ding7777 on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 05:47:58 PM EST
    with his (Holder's) memorandum is an immediate budget cut to the rouge DEA office equal to the money it cost for the raid.

    Why would they allow Medical Marijuana (none / 0) (#15)
    by mexboy on Sun Feb 14, 2010 at 03:04:04 PM EST
    when it will cut the profits of the corporations that put the politicians in power?

    The solution? Stop living in fear and dump the Democratic Party.

    We need a political revolution in this country. The tea party is doing it, where is the progressive one?

    Did I dump the Democrats and go Independent? You bet.

    Will it make a difference to them? Not until enough of us do it, but I live better knowing I'm part of the solution.

    Happy Valentine's everyone.