Jeffrey Sweetin, the Drug Enforcement Administration's top agent in Colorado, said Monday there must be "aggravating factors" before he would raid businesses involved in the state's medical-marijuana industry.
Sweetin said medical-marijuana growers and dispensaries operating within the limits of state law are not ordinarily worth his agents' time. Because of that, there have been instances when DEA agents have taken no action against marijuana-growing operations after an initial investigation, Sweetin said.
"There's no question that these guys who are growing weed are violating federal law," Sweetin said during a meeting with The Denver Post's editorial board. "The real question is what are we going to do about it?"
Sweetin said agents would only pursue cases against medical-marijuana distributors if those businesses had links to criminal organizations, were run by people with lengthy criminal backgrounds, were feeding the marijuana black market, were operating "far over the line" of state law or had some other combination of shady dealings.
Sweetin's comments come a little over a week before a hearing in which Chris Bartkowicz, a Highlands Ranch man charged in federal court with marijuana cultivation, is expected to plead guilty.
DEA agents seized plants and growing equipment from Bartkowicz's home earlier this year.
The bust — along with comments Sweetin made that medical-marijuana businesses are at risk of federal prosecution — spread fear through Colorado's medical-marijuana industry. Activists and politicians complained that Sweetin was in violation of a Department of Justice memo that advises federal prosecutors to back off patients and small-scale providers in medical-marijuana states.
Bartkowicz was targeted, Sweetin said, because he had more plants than specified in state law, because he had prior drug convictions and because he was growing near a school.
Sweetin said that while medical-marijuana activists think he went too far in busting Bartkowicz, he's also heard from residents and local law enforcement officials urging him to go further in targeting medical-marijuana operations. He said he would prefer the DEA focus on international criminal groups and said he doesn't want to become the state's pot cop.
"I can't send people out every time there's a marijuana case," he said.
By John Ingold
April 6, 2010