Chris Bartkowicz, Highlands Ranch marijuana grower, not allowed to use medical defense
High profile medical marijuana grower Chris Bartkowicz won't be able to use the state's medical marijuana laws as part of his defense in federal court, a judge ruled yesterday.
Bartkowicz was arrested last February after showing off his grow operation to a local television news crew.
He has been accused of illegally cultivating marijuana near a school. Since the beginning, Bartkowicz has contended that he was following state medical marijuana laws, and has been the unfair target of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Federal district court Judge Philip Brimmer did note, however, that Bartkowicz would likely be allowed to reference the state medical marijuana laws if he takes the stand in the jury trial -- though only in the context of how he came to be cultivating such a large amount of
Brimmer also shot down several attempts to dismiss the trial by Bartkowicz's attorney, Joseph Saint-Veltri. Among his arguments: that Bartkowicz had been unfairly prosecuted for expressing his First Amendment rights on television, and that Bartkowicz had been led to believe he was following the law based on formal guidelines issued by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General David Ogden that urged federal prosecutors not to go after medical marijuana growers in compliance with their state laws.
Pro-Bartkowicz protesters from the rally preceding the hearing.
Throughout most the hearing Bartkowicz -- dressed in black slacks and a white shirt and tie - sat silently. When called to the stand to testify about his belief that he was following state laws, he spoke quickly and gave short answers.
One small concession for Bartkowicz came when prosecutors said they are currently only taking into consideration one of Bartkowicz's two prior state felony marijuana charges. Still, prosecutors said they have time to tack on the other felony, which would increase the mandatory minimum to sixty years -- which Bartkowicz had feared all along.
Either penalty carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Outside the courthouse, roughly two-dozen supporters, including Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente, SAFER's Mason Tvert and Colorado Colation for Patients and Caregivers' Robert Chase waived signs and chanted "DEA go away!" to passers-by. Click here to see a photo gallery of the Bartkowicz rally.
"I fear for him, you know?" said Amber Courtnage, a friend of Bartkowicz, as she choked back
tears. "He is just a good guy who was just trying to help people."