In my first “On Marijuana” column, I described the need to refer to law enforcement as the “Arrest and Prosecution Industry.” While I didn’t plan to return to the same subject in my second column, recent events have compelled me to revisit the topic. My last column was theory; this one is practice.
Just over a week ago, a man named Chris Bartkowicz in Highlands Ranch, Colorado made a questionable (at best) PR move. He agreed to be interviewed by a local television station about his medical marijuana grow operation. Granted, he believed he was in compliance with state law and had no reason to fear prosecution. But, come on, dude. It’s one thing to make six figures growing marijuana in your home for patients; it’s quite another to advertise it on television. It’s like putting a “Home Invasions Encouraged” sign on your door.
What Bartkowicz wasn’t expecting—if he was really thinking things through at all—was that the DEA would show up the next day at his house, take all of his plants, and forward his case to the U.S. Attorney, who subsequently filed charges carrying a 5- to 40-year prison sentence. This, despite the fact that the Obama administration has instructed U.S. Attorneys not to prosecute individuals who comply with state medical marijuana laws.
Was Bartkowicz in compliance with state law? Maybe yes, maybe no. By the DEA’s admission, he was a caregiver for at least 12 patients, which would allow him to have 72 marijuana plants. The complaint—available on this page as a pdf—alleges that he had 224 plants, more than 100 of which were “clones” or “starter” plants; the others were “in various stages with root systems.” So what we are talking about here is a matter of degree. If someone can legally grow marijuana for patients, but exceeds the allowable number—perhaps for fear that some plants would not mature or perhaps because they felt more patients would need help before the plants matured—is it an intelligent use of taxpayer dollars to raid, prosecute and imprison this person for 40 years?
The truth is, as discussed in my last column, the DEA is not concerned with using taxpayer dollars intelligently. They are merely focused on using taxpayer dollars. Cases like this demonstrate that they are no better than ambulance-chasing lawyers. They see an “accident” on television and they run like two-dollar hookers to keep themselves busy and make a couple bucks. Why waste your time investigating people manufacturing meth when you can look up a medical marijuana grower on the Internet (which the DEA acknowledges in their complaint was a major part of their “investigation”) and raid his house?
And now the media is even helping the DEA advertise for clients. Inciting fears of possible house fires from marijuana growing, the DEA has launched a new campaign to fight this “menace.” In addition to dutifully reporting on this “danger,” the media helped steer business to the DEA by publishing this advice from George Morkovin, of the Denver Fire Department:
Morkovin said additional regulations are needed to protect residents from these marijuana fires, but until that happens, he recommends notifying authorities if someone believes a grow is taking place next door.
How convenient. With this information, the DEA won’t even need to waste time looking up an address. They can just use Google Maps and they’re on their way.
They no longer deserve to be called the Drug Enforcement Administration. They are simply the Drug Employment Administration, keeping themselves busy by raiding people who are not raising the ire of state authorities, but are merely trying to cultivate marijuana so that there is an adequate supply for the tens of thousands of registered patients in the state.
Fortunately, we have rock star advocates like Brian Vincente of Sensible Colorado calling out the DEA and the U.S. Attorney on their true motivations. (This is just one quote from Vicente in an interview in which he simply shreds law enforcement):
“I think the U.S. Attorney and the DEA view marijuana laws as a continuing employment act. It gives them something to do, and they’re afraid that if they were to recognize the will of the voters, they’d be out of work. So I question the motivation for prosecuting these kinds of individuals. I think it’s driven by their own need for job security.”
Steve Fox is the director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project and the co-author of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? (Chelsea Green, August 2009).
This article was originally published on <a href=”AlterNet.