Jeffrey Sweetin, head of Denver DEA, sets the record straight on "rogue agents" and medical marijuana
Jeffrey Sweetin, special agent in charge of the Denver field division of the DEA, lately hasn't been too fond of the mainstream media. Much of it has to do with how reporters covered the case of Chris Bartkowicz, a Highlands Ranch man who was arrested by DEA agents last month after he revealed his marijuana grow operation on a local news station.
Photo courtesy of the DEA Jeffrey Sweetin thinks the media has been ignoring too many facts.
Afterward, Sweetin was quoted as saying, "The time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building and we arrest everybody. They're violating federal law." That was enough for some people to label him a rogue agent, one who wasn't respecting new federal rules regarding state medical-marijuana laws. Since then, Sweetin says folks have filed complaints against him, threatened him with lawsuits, even sent him death threats.
But Sweetin believes most journalists got the story wrong. To set the record straight, Sweetin invited Westword to a sit-down at DEA's Denver headquarters. Page through below to get Sweetin's in-depth take on medical marijuana, the media and the future of pot.
Regarding the Bartkowicz case:
"What's developed is this idea of a rogue DEA agent that's going after dispensaries, that is kicking doors down, raiding small grows that are violating federal laws but are consistent with state law. None of that is factual," Sweetin says.
"We learned about the story from Channel 9's blog, where they had a guy talking about his marijuana grow in a suburban neighborhood. We were led to believe it was a massive grow in a suburban area and that the owner expected to make $400,000 or more a year. We thought, 'This guy may be outside the line.' You think, 'Suburban,' you think, 'kids,' you wonder, 'Is there a health risk?' What really happened was you had a large grow next to a school. There are some you can overlook and there are some you have to take a look at.
"We keep hearing about this raid, but there was no raid. We knocked on the door and they let us in. We didn't kick in the door and gun-face everybody.
"The other issue that's been strangely absent from all of the stories is that this was obviously a violation of both state and federal law. Why has that been omitted?
"After discussions with the individual, we were led to believe that he was aware that what he was doing was outside of state law. Based on his account, we could not tolerate it in good consciousness. Had it been somewhere else, a different guy, a different number of plants, I'm not sure what we would have done."
Regarding how the local media covered it:
"We've embarked on an effort to tell the real story. What's driving the controversy is the desire on the part of the mainstream media to develop stories that are scandalous. The more we give them the facts, the less they want to talk to us, which has been interesting.
"I have been doing media out of this office for about eight years. I think we are the most open DEA office in the country. I never until now have seen what appears to be a desire and willingness to print what's not factual. I've been very clear and available to the media to explain what we're doing and not doing regarding marijuana, but it's just not a story that they like.
"The hysteria is good for some people. It's great for the TV news media. It's great for the attorneys that keep it whipped up.
"I believe the Denver Post is telling one side of the story and its telling it one way. I think that's a shame. They don't realize the impact they're having on their readers.
"When I met with [Channel 9] reporter Deborah Sherman, I agreed to do an interview on the day of the arrest to make sure people understood what the DEA was doing and not doing. They chose to put out that we were rogue, that the DEA has been told not to enforce federal marijuana laws. And that is absolutely not the case.
"I think the problem with complicated social issues is we can't explain the issues in one sentence. In order to tell that story, people need details. I think we've become a society where whatever the TV sound-bite is, that's what my opinion is based on.
"Isn't it interesting that the place willing to print my side is Westword?"