Colorado Medical Marijuana Regulators Helping Bust Grow Sites


Photo: Cannabis Therapy Institute
The MMED’s new logo. Whoever thought they’d see a law enforcement badge with the words “medical marijuana” on it? Just in case we forget how they look at medical marijuana patients and providers, it has ‘CRIMINAL’ right up at the top and center.

‚ÄčColorado medical marijuana regulators have partnered up with local law enforcement to help cities shut down what they say are illegal commercial cannabis cultivation sites and prosecute those running them.

As the only state with medical marijuana regulations allowing companies to profit from selling cannabis, Colorado has adopted strict business licensing requirements, reports the Associated Press, making it easier for law enforcement to find, raid, and prosecute marijuana cultivators.
The Legislature passed a law last year, HB 1284, requiring a special marijuana business license for dispensaries, cultivators, and cannabis-infused product manufacturers. Under a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2000, medical marijuana patients had to be registered with the state, but businesses providing it had not been required to register until the new law passed.

The Cannabis Therapy Institute called the legislation “expensive and unnecessary government over-regulation,” and called on patients to join “the legal fight to defeat these laws.”
But according to state officials, the new law is designed to make it clear who is growing marijuana commercially and who is not, under state law. Before the regulations were adopted, police investigations sometimes fell apart when cultivators said they were growing cannabis for patients, and provided patient cards as proof.
Police and state marijuana regulators claim the new regulations create a “bright line” for law enforcement.
Much to the chagrin of some patient advocacy groups, the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division has a database accessible to law enforcement, with the information of all medical marijuana businesses that have met the initial requirements to continue legally operating under state law.
Businesses that aren’t in the state database are viewed as essentially “illegal drug dealers,” according to division spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait.
“We can just call them up and find out if they’re compliant,” said Denver police narcotics Sgt. Andrew Howard, sho said the partnership with the revenue department made it easier to investigate complaints of illegal pot grows.
“If they say ‘yes,’ then we’re done,” Howard said. “Most of them (from the complaints received) are legal.”
If not, police get a search warrant and start an investigation.
On Friday, Howard, a Denver Police SWAT team and other officers were joined by the Department of Revenue’s Chief of Enforcement Mario Vasquez in a raid of a suspected illegal marijuana garden in a warehouse across the street from a Pentecostal church.
Vasquez said the warehouse owner had license applications pending for five cultivation locations, but not for the one raided Friday in an industrial park where police found 1,500 plants. The case remains under investigation.
That raid — one of the first in which the revenue department has participated in a marijuana grow raid — is expected to be just one of many more.
Figures from the Department of Revenue show they have registered 809 dispensaries, 321 infused product manufacturers, and more than 1,230 marijuana cultivators who are lawfully operating in Colorado.
Those businesses have met deadlines and have applications pending for marijuana business licenses, according to Postlethwait. None have yet actually been issued licenses, bevcause of the time it takes to verify numerous other requirements, including a criminal background check for owners and a meticulous examination of records to ensure all financial backing comes from within Colorado.
But the $64,000 question is whether those businesses — now fully legal under Colorado state law — will still face prosecution under federal law. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said earlier this month that the Department of Justice would “clarify” its position on state medical marijuana laws, after federal prosecutors in numerous states which allow medicinal cannabis warned they might prosecute everyone from licensed growers all the way up to state employees whose job it is to regulate the businesses.