Boulder DA to Feds: Back Off Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Stan Garnett, the District Attorney for Boulder, Colorado, has written a letter to Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh asking that the feds back off from threatening to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries in Boulder that are in compliance with state law. From his letter, available here:

My view is that the resources of the United States Attorney’s Office should be focused elsewhere: on terrorism, serious economic crime, organized crime and serious drug dealing (involving significant amounts of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine). I can see no legitimate basis in this judicial district to focus the resources of the United States government on the medical marijuana dispensaries that are otherwise compliant with Colorado law or local regulation. The people of Boulder County do not need Washington D.C. or the federal government dictating how far dispensaries should be from schools, or other fine points of local land use law.


Accordingly, speaking solely on behalf of myself as the District Attorney in the 20th Judicial District, I am urging you to exercise your prosecutorial discretion to back away from the threatened criminal prosecution of medical marijuana dispensaries in Boulder County if they are compliant with state law and local land use regulations.

Garnett says our state regulations are more than sufficient and dispensaries provide economic benefits to to the community:

Moreover, as the industry has developed and adapted to Colorado’s statutory and local land use and regulatory schemes, I have watched a maturing business that pays substantial tax revenue fit within the fabric of this community.

How they do it in the People's Republic of Boulder:

[M]y office has developed the firm position that there is no role for criminal enforcement against a medical marijuana dispensary if it is complying with Colorado’s statutory framework and local land use regulations.

Props to DA Garnett for taking the initiative to dissuade the feds. While I don't expect the feds will listen, perhaps other local DA's will adopt the same law enforcement approach to medical marijuana dispensaries in their districts.

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    Spelling Alert! "Mariuana" needs (5.00 / 0) (#1)
    by Anne on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 03:19:36 PM EST
    a "j" - which is kind of a funny little bit of wordplay, actually...

    Glad to see Garnett taking on this fight; someone needs to.

    He's hollering in the wind. (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by oculus on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 03:24:01 PM EST
    As long as Michele Leonhart (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Zorba on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 05:55:15 PM EST
    is head of the DEA, the feds aren't going to back off any raids or prosecutions against medical marijuana dispensaries anywhere in this country where they are legal by state law.

    Leonhart has consistently turned down research into the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of marijuana, and has a track record of undermining state law with regard to legal medical marijuana. Recently several pro-legalisation agencies have called on President Obama to withdraw his support of Leonhart, including SSDP, MPP, NORML, LEAP, and DPA.

    In 2011, the Washington Post reported that "994 people younger than 18 were killed in drug-related violence between late 2006 and late 2010" and that "[i]n 2009, the last year for which there is data, 1,180 children were killed, half in shootings." In response to these statistics, Leonhart declared that while it "may seem contradictory, the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs."


    She's  real piece of work.


    Or an "h" (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Peter G on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 09:20:56 PM EST
    if you want to spell it the way Congress does in the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. sec. 802(16).  I wish that difference of spelling suggested that the prohibited substance is something different from "marijuana," but alas it doesn't.

    Might Listen (5.00 / 0) (#3)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 03:38:08 PM EST
    If he starts getting loud around election time.  If there is one thing we have learned, Obama will pretty much say anything to get a vote.  Then again... he already said one thing and did the opposite back in 2008.

    And what the he11 are they going to do if the voters make it legal in Colorado in November ?

    And they say (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by BackFromOhio on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 04:00:42 PM EST
    we need to cut the budget... so?

    As Andgarden and I have both pointed out (5.00 / 3) (#8)
    by Peter G on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 09:02:32 PM EST
    more than once, no state can "make it legal."  "Manufacturing" (growing), distributing, and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute will remain felonies under federal law within the "District" of Colorado (a federal jurisdiction with exactly the same borders and population as the State of Colorado). With no "medical" exception, either.  No state can repeal or override federal law within its borders. All the state can do by "legalizing" is end state-level enforcement, arrests, prosecutions, and sentencings.  Far from a small thing, I agree, but that just does not "make it legal" in Colorado, and it is very misleading (and dangerous to the imperfectly informed) to suggest otherwise.

    While the courts (5.00 / 4) (#10)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 10:51:10 PM EST
    have agreed with you, it's important to keep this in context.

    The ballot initiatives proposed in Colorado are to legalize adult possession of marijuana for personal use. Small amounts. Under federal law that's a misdemeanor, not a felony.

    The feds are not going to start charging people for possessing user quantities of marijuana unless its in conjunction with more serious charges, such as a person who is selling another drug and happens to have some pot on his person or in his vehicle or home. They simply don't have the resources and also aren't interested in bringing those cases. Federal prosecutors' guidelines set minimum threshold quantities in deciding whether to bring federal charges. While non-binding and there can be exceptions, in general, small drug possession cases involving user quantities are not brought in federal court in Colorado.

    So for all intents and purposes, if Colorado voters pass the legalization measure in November, it will result in a lack of prosecution.

    yes, cultivation is different. That's a felony, even for one plant under federal law. But again, from a practical standpoint, the feds aren't going to charge someone who just grows a few plants for his or her own use. As with other drug crimes, their policy guidelines provide minimum thresholds, they lack of resources and they aren't interested.

    Possession of up to 1 ounce is now a petty offense in Colorado punishable by a $100 fine. But it also results in criminal record.  And it counts as a criminal history point if the person is later convicted of any federal offense, which increases their sentencing guidelines. (Only a few of our judges exempt it.)

    Passing this initiative will result in Colorado not being able to charge and convict people of this offense. Coupled with the feds lack of interest and policy guidance against prosecuting small user cases,  many people will be able avoid a criminal record. And the lack of a state prosecution and conviction will also enable them to avoid the potential for a greater sentence if later convicted of any crime in federal court.

    The feds past and present policy of not charging people in federal court solely with minor possession charges means these initiatives are likely to result in defacto legalization for users who don't also engage in more serious criminal conduct.

    I bring this up because people should not think these initiatives won't make a difference if passed and get discouraged from voting.  I think they will make a difference to those solely engaging in the conduct that is the subject of the initiatives -- adult possession of marijuana for personal use -- and I encourage everyone who wants this change to vote.


    Very astute reply, J (5.00 / 1) (#33)
    by Peter G on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 09:44:42 PM EST
    Excellent and important points you make.

    Interesting, Jeralyn (none / 0) (#13)
    by Edger on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 09:29:37 AM EST
    There's a lot more to then people will understand with only surface "sound bite" news reporting, obviously.

    Be nice if you could "arrange" to be interviewed on television about it...


    Peter, I Get That, It's Why I Wrote... (none / 0) (#14)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 09:53:21 AM EST
    And what the he11 are they going to do if the voters make it legal in Colorado in November ?.

    What I meant is what is the Fed going to do about the state's refusal to view M as illegal ?  While it might be technically illegal, the Feds will get zero cooperation from the Colorado authorities for M, which is going to be a nightmare for the Feds.

    Are they going let it go, or come down hard as kdog suggests.  I tent to side with kdog, and I also think they are going to put some real pressure on the state, maybe even threaten to withdrawal all the drug busting infrastructure.


    I guarantee... (none / 0) (#15)
    by kdog on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 11:13:32 AM EST
    there will be threats to pull all kinds of federal funding for all kinds of sh*t if it looks like it will pass...to scare voters and pols who support it.

    Which I would counter with a threat to withold all federal taxes collected in Colorado..two can play that game.


    I Went Through It... (none / 0) (#24)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 12:57:57 PM EST
    In Wisconsin, which was one of the last states to raise the drinking age.  They didn't go after WI specifically, but mandated that any state that didn't raise it to 21 would not receive Fed highway cash.

    Side Note. Although I missed the grandfather date by over a year, it created this weird situation in which some kids in high school made the cut-off, and many didn't.  If you born before a certain date you were in, but if you born the day after, 3 years until you could legally drink in Wisconsin.
    But the state got back by turning a blind eye to it for years for the most part.  

    Anyways, by using the mandate, there really isn't much the state can do but comply.  The Fed simply has more power, so I don't think withholding taxes is a solution.

    But denying cooperation with the Fed, especially in the terrorist and hard drug front, could be.  And this situation is different in that voters, assuming it would a majority, would be changing a law.  Not sure if the Fed wants to overturn that vote, certainly not Mr Populist IMO.  I guess we may find out soon enough.


    There is always secession... (none / 0) (#26)
    by kdog on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 01:05:02 PM EST
    but I'd imagine it would require a tyranny beyond one that only effects 10% or less of the population directly for a state to seriously consider it.  And poor Colorado would be surrounded by hostile territory being landlocked.

    Stoners and those sick with ailments alleviated by medical mj just aren't enough to rate I'm afraid.


    But the Tourism (none / 0) (#32)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 03:10:19 PM EST
    ...would be second to none, Amsterdam right in the heart of America. Complete with all the other fantastic cool stuff Colorado already has.

    It's such an bizarre thought that it seems like it could never happen.


    We've already seen... (none / 0) (#31)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 02:12:40 PM EST
    the tax benefit of MM around here.  I don't think the Feds can hold much over our heads these days.  

    Something akin... (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 03:45:32 PM EST
    to an invasion...I wouldn't be surprised if DEA agent para-troopers rained from the skies of Colorado.

    And all the Crazies... (none / 0) (#6)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Mar 14, 2012 at 04:12:24 PM EST
    ...will be forever vindicated and set free.

    Colorado (none / 0) (#11)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 08:54:53 AM EST

    Colorado may need an "interference with lawful trade" law and arrest the feds.  


    Article VI, Clause 2 (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Yman on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 09:18:44 AM EST
    The Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution.

    That still doesn't mean (none / 0) (#16)
    by Chuck0 on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 11:40:38 AM EST
    they can't arrest a few of them. They may not be able to successfully prosecute any feds, but they can certainly lock'em up for a few days. They'd be welcomed with open arms by the rest of the detainees.

    Well, of course ... (none / 0) (#17)
    by Yman on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 11:56:18 AM EST
    ... you can always make clearly unlawful arrests, but I never really thought of that as a good thing - or something we should encourage.  Plus, Colorado would be "welcomed" with a smackdown - and a few lawsuits, to boot.

    There is legal/illegal... (none / 0) (#18)
    by kdog on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 12:00:39 PM EST
    and there is right/wrong...and far too rare that the two shall meet.

    Arresting those attempting to kidnap and steal property is a bad thing?  Since when?


    Not "kidnapping" or "stealing" (none / 0) (#21)
    by Yman on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 12:31:57 PM EST
    ... just because they're enforcing a law/laws that you don't like.  I know you hate drug laws and have major authoritarian issues with law enforcement at all levels, but change the law instead of making baseless arrests of guys who are just doing their job.

    BTW - I agree with the Boulder DA and would go even further - the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries should be left to the states.  If a state wants to allow them, they should be treated like any other business without fear of prosecution.


    If an alien landed... (none / 0) (#22)
    by kdog on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 12:44:36 PM EST
    and witnessed a DEA raid as first contact, I'm confident they'd call it kidnapping.  Person A bonds Person B in chains and detains them...kidnapping.  Confiscates their possessions...stealing.

    Change the federal law?  We'd need something resembling a functioning representative democracy to accomplish that.  Change the law...you slay me;)


    By your definition, ... (none / 0) (#25)
    by Yman on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 12:58:19 PM EST
    ... any arrest would be "kidnapping" and any confiscation of property by law enforcement would be "stealing".  By your logic, no one could be arrested for any reason because that would be "kidnapping" - same for seizing evidence.

    It's a silly argument.


    According to natural law... (none / 0) (#28)
    by kdog on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 01:09:01 PM EST
    every arrest is kidnapping, you betcha.  

    Arrest for murder is kidnapping with just cause, arrest for possession of plants is kidnapping without cause...don't go all Warden Norton obtuse on me Yman;)


    Who gets to decide? (none / 0) (#29)
    by Yman on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 01:32:10 PM EST
    I know you think drug laws are "unjust" (and therefore arrest for violation of drug laws is "kidnapping"), but we can't arrest cops for enforcing laws that you think are "unjust" (not even unconstitutional or illegal).  Talk about overcrowding.

    "Kidnapping" is a crime with specific definition(s), one which doesn't include arrests made under laws that Kdog thinks are unfair.


    Thats the thing... (none / 0) (#30)
    by kdog on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 01:43:59 PM EST
    I can't fathom any reasonable objective reasonably intelligent being who is honest thinking otherwise.  

    Don't you think they're unfair and unjust?  

    Upon receiving an explanation from the fictional DEA agent, my fictional alien life form would think..."the earthlings in the DEA jackets' have not yet evolved."  And it would hightail it outta here back to the mothership.


    Cops do it everyday (none / 0) (#19)
    by Chuck0 on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 12:15:49 PM EST
    to us serfs. "Disturbing the Peace," "Resisting." All your basic contempt of cop arrests. I see nothing wrong with Boulder County making a few "contempt of state law" arrests on federal agents.

    So unlawful arrests are okay ... (none / 0) (#20)
    by Yman on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 12:23:59 PM EST
    ... as long as they're arresting someone you don't like.

    Got it.


    Not OK... (none / 0) (#23)
    by kdog on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 12:47:16 PM EST
    but perhaps necessary when living under unjust laws.  

    I got no problem with a cease and desist warning prior to the arrest of federal agents...give them every opportunity to do the right thing instead of the "legal" wrong thing, with arrest as a last resort.


    Distinction without a difference (none / 0) (#27)
    by Yman on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 01:05:10 PM EST
    You're arguing it's "not okay", but you would allow it anyway (after a warning) because you feel the law is unjust.

    I know drugs laws are your pet peeve (and law enforcement in general), but you don't get to arrest guys for doing their job (even cops) just because you don't like the law.