Pot power players Who's Who in Colorado: The anti-marijuana team
Keeping track of all the individuals and organizations duking it out on the front lines of the state's medical-marijuana debate is trickier than picking through the med strains at your corner dispensary. To help weed through the chaos, we've created this guide to the state's top marijuana power players, complete with Pot Passion Index" (in which a ranking of 1 equates to "Ban it forever!" while a 10 signifies "Pot for everybody!").
Today we're tackling the anti-pot team; check out yesterday's post for the pro-pot crew. Think of them like baseball cards for pot pundits: Eat your heart out, Topps!
Title/Organization: Colorado Attorney General
Representative quote: "I saw it coming. Even when we looked at the amendment in 2000, it was very purposely designed, in my opinion, by the advocates so it was so broad you could drive a truck through it."
Standing on the Pot Passion Index: 1
Strengths: Suthers has longevity going for him. He's been opposed to Colorado's medical-marijuana law ever since it was first proposed. Suthers, a Republican, has quibbled with President Barack Obama's new medical-marijuana approach, dismisses regulations that would legitimize the dispensary industry, and champions a Colorado Court of Appeals decision that found a caregiver had to do more for patients than just provide weed. In short, the AG's office believes the dispensary model is illegal, plain and simple.
Weaknesses: Suthers has been hammered for his resolute stance. The latest attack? Advocate Rob Corry knocked him for recently sending a law enforcement officer to speak on his behalf against a marijuana bill.
Title/Organization: U.S. Attorney, District of Colorado
Representative quote: "We don't need to wait for the state legislature to interpret [Amendment 20]. The guidance we have from the deputy attorney general is sufficient for us to do our job, which is to enforce the federal law."
Standing on the Pot Passion Index: 2
Strengths: Gaouette's in a tough situation. He's charged with enforcing federal law, under which medical marijuana is still very much illegal, in a state that's going weed-crazy. A recent federal directive that the Justice Department should steer clear of pot cases that comply with state medical-marijuana laws might have helped clarify matters, but even pot advocates admit that Colorado's medical-marijuana laws are so hazy it's often hard to tell which situations abide by them and which don't. For a time, Gaouette avoided many of the public firefights on the issue -- but that changed in February, when his office brought charges against Chris Bartkowicz, a high-profile pot grower -- a move that drew questions from several local politicians.
Weaknesses: Gaouette might have a point when he says that Bartkowicz wasn't in compliance with medical-marijuana laws -- he had more plants than he had patients for, and his operation was within throwing distance of a neighborhood school. But the fact that DEA agents learned about this pot grow from 9News makes it far from an open-and-shut case.
Title/Organization: Special Agent in Charge, DEA Denver Field Division
Representative quote: "If we were declaring war on dispensaries, they would not be hard to find. You can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting thirty of them."
Standing on the Pot Passion Index: 1
Strengths: Like Gaouette, Sweetin's stuck between an indisputable federal pot prohibition and a booming medical-marijuana scene in Colorado. But the DEA head has been more willing to wade into the political quagmire, voicing his concerns about the dispensary industry -- and often with a bit of humor.
Weaknesses: Sweetin's softened his stance some. Last month he vowed, "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." But a few days later he backtracked and said this: "We are not declaring war on dispensaries." Folks are wondering whether someone in D.C. has pulled in the special agent's reins.
Title/Organization: Director, Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program
Representative quote: "Increasing any kind of drug use is not a good thing. Any time you have increased use, including with marijuana, you are going to have increased accidents, treatments and other problems."
Standing on the Pot Passion Index: 2
Strengths: From working undercover in the midst of San Francisco's Summer of Love to running California's narcotics operations during the cocaine boom to tackling the meth-house epidemic in Colorado, Gorman knows his drugs -- and lately he's focused his expertise on what he sees as the out-of-control medical-marijuana culture. He's pushed for legislation that would eliminate dispensaries, noting in a letter to legislators that doing anything less would be tantamount to violating federal law. Gorman wouldn't mind having alcohol prohibited, too.
Weaknesses: You have to give Gorman props for sticking to his guns -- though critics have argued that he shouldn't be doing so at the State Capitol, since federal employees are prohibited from lobbying.
Title/Organization: President, Colorado Drug Investigators Association
Representative quote: "Those who want to legalize drugs weaken our collective struggle against this scourge of our society. Like a cancer, proponents for legalization eat away at society's resolve and moral fiber."
Standing on the Pot Passion Index: -1
Strengths: As the head of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association as well as a member of the Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel, Martinez has been the mouthpiece for law enforcement's concerns about marijuana. A 2006 letter he wrote that compared marijuana advocates to cancer underlined his hard-line stance on the issue.
Weaknesses: Wily pot proponent and fellow marijuana review panel member Mason Tvert has set his sights squarely on Martinez -- and Tvert wields some serious firepower.
Title/Organization: Commander, North Metro Task Force
Representative quote: "We're already having a difficult time with dropout rates, teen pregnancies, issues of kids staying in school, and any kind of legalization movement would push us back further on those issues."
Standing on the Pot Passion Index: 2
Strengths: As Martinez's second-in-command at the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, Peters has been arguing that the state's dispensary industry is creating a variety of societal problems -- and the recent work of his North Metro Task Force seems to back up his claim. Task force cases include a local man who claimed to be running an Internet dispensary with weed he shipped in from California and two marijuana grows in which children were injured: an eleven-year-old boy who shot himself in the foot apparently while guarding his parents' grow, and a ten-month-old who was hospitalized after ingesting pot edibles.
Weaknesses: Peters has his hands full rebuilding the reputation of his task force, which was left in tatters under its previous commander thanks to its role in Operation Fortune Cookie, a scandal-racked pot bust.
Title/Organization: Colorado Chief Medical Officer
Representative quote: "There's no other setting in medicine where this can occur -- where you can walk in off the street, see a physician who's never seen you before, have him or her diagnose you with a chronic condition without ever examining you, document this chronic debilitating condition, refer you to a pharmacy that he or she may have an interest in or gets a kickback from, give you a psychoactive substance, and when you walk out the door, you'll never see that doctor again."
Standing on the Pot Passion Index: 4
Strengths: As the head honcho at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Calonge has cast a skeptical eye on some of the medical aspects of the medical marijuana industry. His office has twice attempted limiting each caregiver to a maximum of five patients, sounded the alarm that an increasing number of young men were getting medical-pot cards, and expressed concern that a vast majority of marijuana recommendations were written by a small handful of doctors. Calonge would like to see marijuana doctors separated from dispensaries, as well as integrated care clinics where pot is just one of the options offered.
Weaknesses: The CDPHE has been quieter of late, possibly because of several recent embarrassments. The office's concerns about young men getting pot cards turned out to be based on false data, Denver District Court Judge Larry Naves invalidated its five-patients-per-caregiver rule for a second time, and an intensely watched Board of Health meeting was marred by a faulty conference-call system that broadcast hilarious comments from pot advocates, including the classic "Shut up about your fucking mango."
Title/Organization: Fourth Judicial District Attorney
Representative quote: "I have seen crimes because of dispensaries. I'm seeing them being put up next to schools, which gives the potential to openly recruit kids out of our high schools."
Standing on the Pot Passion Index: 3
Strengths: As the district attorney in El Paso County, May had his office start boning up early on medical marijuana. While he says he's supportive of medical pot, he's not thrilled with dispensaries, and he recently urged the Colorado Springs City Council to hold off on regulating dispensaries until the state passed legislation on the issue, indicating that otherwise he might end up prosecuting some of the same people to whom the city would be issuing dispensary licenses.
Weaknesses: Some observers believe May's antagonism against dispensaries crossed the line earlier this year when he, supposedly acting as an individual, attempted to get rid of a dispensary that had opened in his neighborhood.
Title/Organization: Denver City Council Member
Representative quote: "I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the '60s, and I've seen every single permutation of this stuff. I've had friends among the walking wounded and fatalities of that era, so you can't surprise me about drugs."
Standing on the Pot Passion Index: 5
Strengths: In the meetings that led up to Denver City Council unanimously passing dispensary regulations in January, Councilwoman Boigon voiced an assortment of concerns about the city's growing medical-pot business. She pushed for a series of amendments to the proposed regulations, including instituting product labeling that would note the purity of the pot, requiring security for marijuana delivery vehicles and prohibiting dispensaries from being within 1,000 feet of libraries, rec centers and parks with athletic fields.
Weaknesses: None of Boigon's colleagues supported her proposed amendments -- possibly because they were skeeved out by her vivid stories of drug-culture shenanigans during the 1960s.