DENVER — Federal authorities are considering a statewide crackdown on medical marijuana businesses in Colorado in the first sign that a coordinated offensive against the industry is expanding from California.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that such an enforcement action is under consideration for Colorado early next year, despite state laws that regulate and tax the industry. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and did not provide details because the matter is under review.
KCNC-TV reported Tuesday (http://cbsloc.al/tQ3DBq ) that the crackdown would target dispensaries and cultivations located near schools, with those businesses receiving letters to end operations within 45 days or face prosecution.
U.S. Attorney John Walsh would not comment on the matter, his spokesman Jeffrey Dorschner said. Walsh would be responsible for pursuing federal charges. U.S. Department of Justice officials in Washington referred the matter back to Walsh.
In California, the crackdown targeted dozens of medical marijuana businesses, landlords leasing property to growers, and retailers selling medical marijuana over the counter. U.S. attorneys there did not release how many marijuana businesses were targeted in the state, which first legalized medical marijuana in 1996.
The crackdown raised fears that a similar action would happen in Colorado.
“This has been the reality that people in the industry have been living with from day one,” said Sam Kamin, a law professor at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver. “The feds have generally stayed away from people in good compliance with state law. … Will that be the approach here?”
There are 667 retail shops, or dispensaries, 926 cultivations and 246 infused product manufacturers operating under Colorado law, according to figures from the state revenue department.
Colorado’s medical marijuana industry began its boom after a September 2009 memo by then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden that said federal prosecutors should not focus investigative resources on patients and caregivers complying with state laws. Ogden’s replacement, James Cole, sent another memo in June that took a tougher stance and said state medical marijuana laws do not provide immunity from federal prosecution.
Cole’s memo said cancer patients and caregivers shouldn’t be targeted, but commercial enterprises that sell and profit from marijuana sales should be a priority.
He visited Colorado three weeks after the federal government announced the crackdown in California but declined to comment on any enforcement beyond that state. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical use.
“Colorado has been a model for how a state should regulate medical marijuana,” said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana advocacy group. “Our system has worked and Colorado should be allowed to continue to do so.”