Rep. Jared Polis to Eric Holder: Stand By Your Word on Medical Marijuana

Colorado Rep. Jared Polis wrote a letter yesterday to Attorney General Eric Holder criticizing the recent federal raids on medical marijuana in Colorado.

Tuesday, Polis sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to instruct agents to abide by the Justice Department's Oct. 19 directive to allow deference to state laws on legalized medical marijuana use, or to clarify the new position.

Polis sent a copy of the letter to President Obama. He posted his letter today on Square State. (Why don't they promote it to the front page from the diaries?) I'm reprinting it below: [More...]

Dear Attorney General Holder:

As you know, the voters in my state legalized marijuana for medical use, and placed it in the Colorado Constitution, Article XVIII § 14, the Supreme Law of Colorado.

The Department of Justice is to be commended for issuing formal written guidelines on October 19, 2009, clarifying that federal resources should not be used against people in compliance with state law in states that have legalized marijuana for medical use. When drug czar Gil Kerlikowske was in Colorado recently, I thanked him for taking this step and respecting our state law.

Despite these formal guidelines, Friday, February 12, 2010, agents from the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the home of medical marijuana caregiver Chris Bartkowicz in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. In a news article in the Denver Post the next day, the lead DEA agent in the raid, Jeffrey Sweetin, claimed "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."

Agent Sweetin's comment that "we arrest everybody" is of great concern to me and to the people of Colorado, who overwhelmingly voted to allow medical marijuana. Coloradans suffering from debilitating medical conditions, many of them disabled, elderly, veterans, or otherwise vulnerable people, have expressed their concern to me that the DEA will come into medical marijuana dispensaries, which are legal under Colorado law, and "arrest everybody" present. Although Agent Sweetin reportedly has backed away from his comments, he has yet to issue a written clarification or resign, thus the widespread panic in Colorado continues.

On May 14, 2009, Mr. Kerlikowske told the Wall Street Journal: "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country." The actions and commentary of Mr. Sweetin are inconsistent with the idea of not waging war against the people of the State of Colorado and are a contradiction to your agency's laudable policies.

On Saturday, February 13, 2010, local Attorney Robert J. Corry, Jr. submitted a formal complaint regarding the raid and subsequent comments by Sweetin to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, which is tasked with investigating "waste, fraud, abuse, or misconduct" from Justice officials. I ask you to instruct the Inspector General to respond promptly to Mr. Corry's complaint.

On Tuesday, February 17, 2010, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado David Gaouette announced his office's intention to criminally charge Mr. Bartkowicz in federal court. In order to ensure a fair trial for Mr. Bartkowicz, it is essential that the confusion about administration policy caused by the actions of Agent Sweetin be resolved ahead of jury selection in this case. A response to Mr. Corry's complaint would serve as point of clarity.

I again applaud your policy. Treating drug policy as primarily an issue of public health, as opposed to an issue of criminal justice, is both practical and compassionate and it has been and will continue to be supported by the voters of Colorado. Please clarify for me in writing whether Agent Sweetin's comments that DEA will "arrest everybody" remains United States policy. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.


Jared Polis
Member of Congress

cc: President Barack Obama

As an introductory note to his post on Square State, Polis writes:

The DEA must do more to stop their rogue agents from harassing and raiding our medical marijuana dispensaries, which are legal under state law. That's why I sent this letter to Attorney General Holder today.

The DOJ memo has a lot of exceptions -- most of them arbitrary and to be exercised in their sole discretion. It hardly puts people on notice of what conduct is subject to a federal raid. Sweetin's comments just make the situation worse. His backtracking wasn't really a pull-back at all. And I expect the memo's exceptions are what Holder will rely on if he responds to Polis' letter. Still, props to Rep. Polis for taking the initiative and weighing in.

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    Thanks for posting this, Jeralyn! (none / 0) (#1)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Thu Feb 25, 2010 at 07:39:09 AM EST
    And thanks to Rep. Polis for his letter as well as being responsive enough to the people he represents to interact with us on the various local blogs.  

    As I said in my response to him elsewhere, letters are nice--but they're not going to change the way the DEA goes about it's "job".  Congress has the ability to make changes to the Controlled Substances Act and bring some sanity to the unwinnable and costly War on Pot.  

    There is no reason that marijuana remains a Schedule 1 narcotic.  Please, amend the law and/or put pressure on the AG to re-classify marijuana, Rep. Polis!

    Credit where its due... (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 25, 2010 at 08:21:31 AM EST
    Thats one helluva fine letter...keep on 'em Polis, and don't take no doublespeak bullsh*t for an answer.

    This Sweetin cat at the DEA should be sh*t-canned post-haste...such language as "arrest everybody" has no place coming out of an agent of the law's mouth...no place.  Outrageous and unacceptable.


    Well, if the feds are going to actually arrest (none / 0) (#3)
    by MyLeftMind on Thu Feb 25, 2010 at 12:43:50 PM EST
    people who go to the home of a marijuana caregiver (seller), then it's much better DEA flat out tells the truth about what they intend to do. Otherwise customers won't realize they put themselves at risk whenever they buy pot. Obviously the feds should leave the dispensaries alone, but if they're going to continue ignoring the Department of Justice guidelines, it's better that customers know they might be arrested & prosecuted.

    This is America... (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 25, 2010 at 12:55:05 PM EST
    the threat of being arrested and prosecuted always exists, whether you smoke reefer or not.  

    cost efficiency wise, (none / 0) (#5)
    by cpinva on Fri Feb 26, 2010 at 03:17:00 AM EST
    it would be best just eliminate the DEA in its entirety. it serves, at best, a duplicative function, that the FBI is charged with. in its primary function, the "war on drugs", it has clearly been an abject failure, a rather expensive failure at that. by comparison, vietnam was actually a win, in terms of both money and manpower.

    DEA is a useless vestige of the nixon administration, time to take it to the vet, and have it mercifully put to sleep.