Drug Law

DEA Changes Tune: No War on Marijuana Dispensaries

| by Marijuana Policy Project

By Kurt A. Gardinier

Chris Bartkowicz was conducting a medical marijuana growing operation in his suburban Denver basement and was so confident that he was complying with state law that he decided to talk to the media, boasting to Denver’s NBC affiliate about the size and success of his operation, saying that he’s “living the dream.”

The next day his dream ended when DEA agents entered his home, placed him under arrest and carried off dozens of black bags full of marijuana plants and growing lights. While some details of this case remain unclear, Jeffrey Sweetin, the DEA special agent in charge of the Denver office, left little ambiguity as to his position. “It’s not medicine,” Sweetin said. “It’s still a violation of federal law [and] we’re still going to continue to investigate and arrest people.”

Sweetin went on to tell the Denver Post that “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.” Sweetin’s comments come just months after a recently announced change in policy by the Obama administration, which said in October that the federal government would respect state laws allowing for the growing and selling of marijuana for medicinal use.

Sweetin’s stance on the issue has seemed to soften a bit. He told the Denver Westword yesterday that the DEA is “not declaring war on dispensaries.” He went on to say, with an apparent laugh, “If we were declaring war on dispensaries, they would not be hard to find. You can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting thirty of them.” Apparently someone with the Obama administration has updated Mr. Sweetin with its new policy.

Meanwhile, Chris Bartkowicz has been formally charged with “possession with intent to manufacture, distribute or dispense 224 marijuana plants ” — a crime that could put him behind bars for five to forty years and cost him up to $2 million in fines.