|Chris Bartkowicz bragged about his $500,000 basement grow operation and expected $400,000 profits. Hours later, he was busted.|
Federal prosecutors Tuesday filed drug-distribution charges against a Colorado man who operated a large marijuana garden in his basement that he said legally served medical marijuana patients.
Chris Bartkowicz, charged with a single count, could face up to 40 years in prison and a $2 million fine, reports John Ingold at The Denver Post.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided Bartkowicz’s suburban home in Highlands Ranch, Colo., last week and seized 224 marijuana plants after he boasted in a television news report about his basement garden, predicting $400,000 profits this year.
|Chris Bartkowicz’s TV appearance led to the loss of these beautiful plants|
Bartkowicz told DEA agents and 9News that he is a legal medical marijuana patient, and that he grows the cannabis to sell to other patients and dispensaries.
Colorado voters legalized medical marijuana for certain patients in 2000, but Colorado U.S. Attorney6 David Gaouette said cannabis cultivation and distribution is still a federal crime, regardless of state laws.
It’s not unusual that we’re presented with marijuana cases,” Gaouette claimed.
The case, however, is the first high-profile federal prosecution in Colorado since the issuance of a Justice Department memo last year that told federal officials to back off in cases where medical marijuana patients and providers are in “clear and unambiguous” compliance with state laws.
According to Bartkowicz’s arrest affidavit, he could only show DEA agents 12 patient registry cards naming him as caregiver, leading agents to conclude that he was growing more than the six plants per patient caregivers are allowed under Colorado law.
“He is certainly not clearly and unambiguously in compliance with state law,” Gaouette said.
Bartkowicz would have been allowed, in state court, to argue an “affirmative defense” because all the plants were for medicinal use. But Gaouette said the U.S. Justice Department does not require federal prosecutors to first prove a violation of state law before pursuing a federal case.
Gaouette further said that Bartkowicz’s medical defense will be “meaningless” in federal court, which doesn’t recognize any legitimate medical use for marijuana.
Local attorney-activist Rob Corry is continuing to press a complaint to the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, in which he charges that Bartkowicz’s arrest and prosecution are wasteful, an abuse of power, and are in violation of the DOJ memo.