Jared Polis questions attorney general Eric Holder about Jeff Sweetin, medical marijuana

When Congressman Jared Polis got his chance to quiz Attorney General Eric Holder during his first appearance on the U.S. House judiciary committee yesterday, he hit on two topics of particular interest to his Boulder area constituency -- medical marijuana and immigration. He began by noting his February letter to Holder referencing remarks by DEA special agent Jeffrey Sweetin, who told the Denver Post following the arrest of Highlands Ranch medical marijuana grower Chris Bartkowicz, "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." Then, after Holder avoided directly criticizing Sweetin while talking about the issue in terms of resource allocation, Polis raised questions about the conflict between state and federal government in terms of the just-passed Arizona immigration law, which prompted Boulder to issue an official travel ban. Check out that clip below, along with a transcript of the MMJ exchange provided by Polis's staff:
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)

Questions for Attorney General Eric Holder on Enforcement of Federal Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee Hearing

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Polis: Thank you, madam chair. My first question is with regard to federal -- the policy with regard to drug enforcement administration and marijuana policy, building off what my colleague, Mr. Cohen asked earlier. I certainly applauded and greet with warm welcome, representing one of the states that has a medical marijuana law and regulates the sale of marijuana, the memo describing the intent of D.A. and U.S. Attorneys. I would like you to describe the objective processes that the D.A. and U.S. Attorneys are using in order to make a determination about whether individuals are in, quote, clear and unambiguous compliance with state law. How is that determined?

Holder: Well, it's done on a -- you know, people get -- I guess tired of hearing this, but it is true. It's done on a case by case basis. We look at the state laws, and what the restrictions are, what the -- how the law is -- how the law is constructed, and there are a number of factors in that memo--that are -- are guides. Is marijuana being sold consistent with state law? Are arms -- are firearms somehow associated with the sale? There are a variety of factors that are contained within the memo that went out from the Deputy Attorney General that United States' Attorneys and Assistant United States' Attorneys are supposed to apply, supposed to consider when trying to make the determination about whether or not federal resources are going to be used to go after somebody who is dealing in marijuana.

Polis: I would certainly encourage that the question of whether or not it's consistent with state law certainly be left to state enforcement actions. In particular, I brought to your concern in a letter of February 23rd requesting a clarification of your policies regarding medical marijuana with regard to several statements that were made by one of your agents in Colorado, Jeffrey Sweeten. Along the lines of the quote -- as quoted in the paper, 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. They're at risk of arrest and imprisonment, end quote. I would like to ask what steps you might take to make sure that the spirit of the enforcement mechanisms that you outlined to me and the answer to your previous questions are not contradicted by the statements of agents that, in fact, then strike fear into legitimate businesses in eyes of our states.

Holder: Well, it's incumbent upon me as Attorney General to make sure that what we have set out as policy is being followed by all of the components within the Department of Justice and to the extent that somebody at the DEA, somebody at -- some Assistant United States' Attorney is not following that policy. It is my responsible to make sure that the policy is clear, that the policy is disseminated, and that people act in conformity with policies that we have determined.

Polis: Do you believe -- do you agree that statements that could be reasonably taken as threatening to businesses that are legal in our state are, in fact, contrary to your stated policy?

Holder: Well, again, if the entity is, in fact, operating consistent with state law, and is not -- does not have any of those factors involved that are contained in that Deputy Attorney General memo, and given, again, the limited resources that we have and our determination to focus on major traffickers, that would be inconsistent with what the policy as we have set it out.

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