Late this summer, the Obama administration promised it wouldn’t interfere in states that legalize weed. The signs so far are less than encouraging.
Federal agents raided more than a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries and grow sites in the Denver area Nov. 21, despite the fact that cannabis is legal in the state and will soon be sold in recreational pot shops.
Agents seized plants and piled them along roadsides, then hauled them away to destroy them. At one grow site, they took more than $1 million in plants. Attorney James Wollrab, who represents Laszlo Bagi, a target of the raids, said the agents simply came, took and left. Because they’re required to destroy any cannabis they see while conducting searches, the raids were merely a “vehicle” for seizing Bagi’s crop and putting him out of business, Wollrab said.
“They took $1 million worth of plants from his facility,” Wollrab said. “They didn’t leave any instructions, saying don’t replant. There was no court order of cease and desist. No explanation.”
The government had little to say publicly about the raids, but a spokesman for the Department of Justice said they were in line with the department’s new marijuana policy, announced in late August. Under that policy, the DOJ has promised not to interfere with weed that’s legal at the state level, so long as the states and pot businesses meet eight federal priorities, such as limiting drug violence.
“While the investigation is ongoing, there are strong indications that more than one of the eight federal prosecution priorities identified in the Department of Justice’s August guidance memo are potentially implicated,” said the spokesman, Jeff Dorschner.
Dorschner wouldn’t give details of which priorities were violated or how. And he wouldn’t say how many facilities were raided, though industry insiders peg the number at more than a dozen. That makes it the largest federal action against marijuana providers in Colorado since the state’s voters chose to legalize in November 2012.
The raids were carried out using multiple sealed search warrants that Dorschner said were part of a single criminal investigation. No arrests were made when the warrants were served.
The Denver Post obtained a search warrant served on Bagi and nine other “targets” who grew marijuana in a converted aircraft facility. According to the warrant, agents were looking for pot and for weapons “which may be used to provide protection to the narcotics trafficking operation, its members or assets.”
Investigators also searched for documents and other records related to “co-conspirators, sources of supply, customers, financial institutions and other individuals or businesses with whom a financial relationship exist.”
The searches were carried out by agents of the DEA, the IRS and local and state police agencies.
“The Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, the Denver Police Department and state and local law enforcement are today executing lawfully obtained search and seizure warrants,” Dorschner said in a statement Nov. 21. “Although we cannot at this time discuss the substance of this pending investigation, the operation under way today comports with the Department’s recent guidance regarding marijuana enforcement matters.”