|Photo: Chris Bartkowicz|
|Happier Times: In 2009 when he uploaded this photo to Facebook, Chris Bartkowicz wrote in the caption: “it’s legal so I started growing it outta my ears. Love this LAW!! LEGAL WEED!!!” He was sentenced to five years in federal prison on Friday.|
Chris Bartkowicz, a Colorado man who ran a medical marijuana growing operation from the basement of his home, was sentenced Friday morning to five years in federal prison.
Bartkowicz pleaded guilty in October to federal drug charges, which vengeful Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided within hours after Chris showed the grow operation to a TV news team.
Under his plea agreement, Bartkowicz and federal prosecutors settled on a prison term of five years, and federal District Court Judge Philip Brimmer chose to accept that deal, reports John Ingold at The Denver Post. His release will be followed by eight years of supervised probation. Under federal sentencing rules, Chris must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, which means, like the case of Marc Emery, a minimum of 51 months in prison.
“Five years is a long time,” Assistant U.S. Attorney M.J. Menendez said during the hearing. “It’s going to allow him time to get treatment and it’s going to give him time to reflect on what brought him here today.”
|Photo: Denver Moms for Marijuana|
|Medical marijuana activists Wayward Bill, left, and Lannette Johnson protest outside the courtroom where on Friday Chris Bartkowicz was sentenced to five years.|
”Get treatment” for what, Attorney Menendez? Medical marijuana was his treatment. “Reflect on” what, Menendez? That the federal government can send you away for five years — for attempting to help sick people? That’s something worthy of reflection, for damn sure.
Chris will be forced to take part in mandatory “drug abuse” and “mental health” programs while he’s in federal prison, reports William Breathes at Denver Westword.
Bartkowicz will be the first person in Colorado to serve federal prison time for actions he says were legal under the state’s medical marijuana law.
Agents confiscated more than 100 plants from Bartkowicz’s house. According to Chris, he was a medical marijuana caregiver to several patients and sold the rest to legal dispensaries.
“This all seems like a script written by Lewis Carroll,” said Bartkowicz’s attorney, Joseph Saint-Veltri, during the hearing, referring to the Alice In Wonderland author.
“Hundreds of [marijuana]plants are being cultivated within a mile radius of this building as we speak, and they will continue to be cultivated… because the people of Colorado want that to happen,” Saint-Veltri added later.
Federal agents claim they targeted Bartkowicz because they claim he was growing more plants than Colorado’s medical marijuana law allowed, because he had prior state-legal drug convictions, and because his operation was about two blocks from a school. Judge Brimmer, handing down the sentence, echoed those concerns.
The judge said Bartkowicz “miserably failed” to follow Colorado law because of the number of plants he had and because he never met many of the patients who used his cannabis. That, Judge Brimmer claimed, means the case is not an example of the federal government oppressively interfering with state law, but rather fits with Bartkowicz’s previous marijuana convictions.
“He’s choosing to violate state law again, and he’s cultivating marijuana,” the self-righteous Judge Brimmer said.
Bartkowicz’s bid to use a medical defense in his federal court case was denied. Because marijuana is illegal for any purpose under state law, Chris had few options but a strike a deal with prosecutors. Because of his prior convictions, Bartkowicz could have gotten 40 years under the charges he faced.
“It’s the best that Mr. Bartkowicz can hope to achieve under these circumstances,” Saint-Veltri said of the plea deal.
About 20 medical marijuana activists gathered outside the federal courthouse to protest the sentencing before the hearing began. They held signs bearing messages including “Cannabis Is Not Criminal.” According to the activists, the DEA wanted to make an example of Bartkowicz in retaliation for the TV interview, which was conducted by local station 9News.
The protest was organized by Lannette Johnson, leader of the Denver chapter of Moms For Marijuana, who said she befriended Bartkowicz after his arrest.
“I think what happened to Chris is a huge injusitce,” Johnson said. “Chris is a DEA scapegoat.”
When he was given the chance, Bartkowicz did not try to sway Judge Brimmer during the sentencing hearing.
“I would actually decline to make any comments to the court,” Chris said.
At the end of the hearing, Chris, wearing a yellow prisoner’s jumpsuit, put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed.
He looked into the audience for a moment, where a number of friends and activists had gathered to support him.
Chris gave them a sad half-smile, then the U.S. Marshal took hold his arm and he disappeared behind a door.