U.S. Attorney John Walsh issued letters this month to 10 medical marijuana access points throughout Colorado, ordering them to either shut down or move because they are located within 1,000 feet of schools.
The mailing is the third round of threatening letters sent to Colorado dispensaries this year, reports Josh Crank of Lawyers.com. In January, 23 letters were sent out, and another 25 were mailed in March. All of the dispensaries targeted in those mailings obeyed, either closing or relocating.
Federal prosecutor Walsh isn’t done. A fourth round of letters is scheduled to go out before the end of the year, accordingd to spokesman Jeff Dorschner of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado.
|The U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Colorado|
|U.S. Attorney John Walsh’s office has sent 10 more letters threatening dispensaries if they don’t shut down or move|
The letters have sent ripples of fear throughout the Colorado medical marijuana community.
“We’re even hearing anecdotally there are other stores that have closed without receiving a letter, simply out of fear of receiving a letter,” Dorschner said.
The crackdown continues despite U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder telling Colorado Rep. Jared Polis that dispensary owners who followed state laws would “not be prioritized” for federal law enforcement.
But while the Attorney General does have some oversight of their activities, U.S. Attorneys have broad discretion over whom to prosecute and where to concentrate federal resources. Walsh cited a section of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act to justify the current campaign against Colorado dispensaries, saying the UCSA creates a 1,000-foot “drug free zone” around schools.
Colorado’s constitutional amendment which legalized medical marijuana in the Mile High State — Amendment 20 — does not address the issue of how close dispensaries can locate to schools. House Bill 1284, passed in 2010, does ban new dispensary licensees from locating within 1,000 feet of schools, although local governments can override this restriction.
After Walsh’s second round of threatening letters, Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett wrote him to argue that Colorado’s medical marijuana laws are working as intended, and that the federal government would be better off concentrating on fighting terrorism, organized crime, and the trafficking of hard drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Walsh replied, insisting that shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries was “necessary” to protect children from drug abuse.
“In the second half of 2010 and 2011, Colorado saw an explosion in the number of medical marijuana dispensaries, with dozens opening close to schools,” Walsh claimed. “This office has reviewed information from many sources, including our public schools, as well as hospitals and medical professionals, that shows an alarming and substantial spike in marijuana abuse by children and young people during that same period.”
“When students see these businesses closed, they get the message that marijuana may not necessarily be OK,” Dorschner said.
Although Walsh’s crackdown is focused on dispensaries near schools, he wouldn’t promise the shops wouldn’t be raided in other locations as well. His response to Garnett also warned that “this program is only one part of this office’s overall enforcement effort, and does not create by implication a safe harbor for marijuana dispensaries or marijuana cultivation in other locations.”
Leonard I. Frieling, director of Colorado NORML, the Boulder chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said it’s absurd for the U.S. Attorney to simply demand that medical marijuana business owners relocate.
“In some cases, you’re talking about kids who have borrowed from their parents’ retirement, putting up every cent they have to start a medical marijuana center, bending over backward to find willing landlords and to consult lawyers, and then they’re told, ‘Oh, you can just move,’ ” Frieling said. “Well, great — give me another $250,000 and I’ll be happy to move.”