Medical marijuana: Does Melinda Haag's memo foreshadow federal MMJ raids in Colorado?

melinda haag.jpg
Melinda Haag.
While medical marijuana is legal in Colorado, it remains against U.S. law -- and the push and pull between the state and the feds continues to concern the local MMJ community. Case in point: The Haag memo, a letter sent in February by California-based U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag promising that federal crackdowns on dispensaries will continue despite local laws allowing medical marijuana: Read it below. Does this mean medical marijuana businesses in Colorado should be worried?

The folks at the Cannabis Therapy Institute certainly think so. In a recent release, also on view below, CTI argues that the Haag missive, sent to the Oakland city attorney in response to a request for MMJ-related guidance from the community's city council, "clarifies" a 2009 memo from Deputy Attorney General David Ogden. That document directed U.S. Attorneys not to target medical marijuana businesses in areas where they're legal as long as they're following state law.

Thumbnail image for Chris Bartkowicz marijuana grower on 9news.jpg
Chris Bartkowicz.
The Ogden memo didn't protect Highlands Ranch MMJ grower Chris Bartkowicz, who was convicted of violating federal marijuana cultivation laws. Bartkowicz thought he was legal by Colorado standards -- a matter of some dispute -- but his attorney, Joseph Saint-
Veltri, was not allowed to use a medical defense in court
.

However, Bartkowicz's arrest last year, following his appearance on 9News, wasn't followed by dozens of wholesale busts on medical marijuana growers and businesses, whose operations are governed by recently finalized regulations developed by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

In the wake of the Haag memo, however, Drug Enforcement Administration raids have taken place in California and Montana. Could Colorado be next?

We put that question to Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado. In conversation, he certainly doesn't portray the Haag memo as having superseded Ogden's in the eyes of John Walsh, his boss.

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John Walsh.
"In Colorado, the U.S. Attorney relies on the Ogden memo to provide guidance specifically as it pertains to how best to utilize our resources when it comes to marijuana prosecutions," Dorschner says. "Our focus in the District of Colorado remains on large-scale drug-trafficking organizations, and that would include large marijuana grows. But again, it would have to be in the context of the Ogden memo."

Does Dorschner's statement mean Haag's letter shouldn't be construed as setting federal policy?

"If you look at an organizational chart at the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorneys are all on a parallel line," he replies. "Then they report up the chain of command to various officials in Washington." He adds that "the Ogden memo, when it was written, was issued by the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, who was authorized to set guidance."

In other words, Walsh is bound by the Ogden memo, not by Haag's. So does that mean a significant escalation in raids here isn't in the cards?

"The U.S. Attorney evaluates marijuana matters on a case-by-case basis, again using the Ogden memo as a guide as to how best utilize resources," Dorschner reiterates. "That is something this U.S. Attorney has done consistently since he was sworn into office."

Presumably, then, the Bartkowicz case might provide a better gauge of Walsh's approach than does the Haag memo. Walsh was confirmed last August, months after Bartkowicz was indicted. And while he didn't drop the prosecution when he took office, he signed off on a plea agreement that sentenced Bartkowicz to five years -- far less than the forty-to-sixty year jolt he might have received.

Will these words reassure local advocates fearful that Haag's letter translates to open season on medical marijuana? Judge for yourself after paging down to read the Haag memo and the aforementioned Cannabis Therapy Institute release.


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24 comments
Evil Esq Bar Asc Law
Evil Esq Bar Asc Law

It's hypocritical of Melinda Haag http://evilesq.com/lawyers/100... to declare war on "pot shops" while lawyers, California attorneys in particular, get by with laundering the proceeds of narcotics trafficking because, according to US Senators Carl Levin and Tom Coburn, of gaping holes in the law and an unwillingness by law enforcement to pursue such cases see: http://barrapartners.com/ 

So what's going on? If cannabis is legal that significantly cut down on the amount of money laundered by law firms ... and kicked back to politicians?

Robert
Robert

Note that the original interview never aired because 9News succeeded in getting Bartkowicz arrested first; it was replaced with a story about the arrest.

Larry Loughdangle
Larry Loughdangle

You mean Chris Bartkowicz, the fellon who went on tv showing off the many plants he was growing near a school?

Robert
Robert

Bartkowicz was a caregiver who gave an interview to 9News about his profession. The article published online before the interview aired led Special-Nazi-in-Charge Bacon and his stormtroopers to stage a false felony arrest of Bartkowicz without probable cause, after which he foolishly waved his rights against self-incrimination and warrantless search. The same article descibed Josh Stanley's vast grow operations downtown, but the DEA has never acted against him.

Guest
Guest

Robert, please understand that when the stormtroopers show up, it doesn't matter if you waive your rights or not. If you try to stand up for your rights, they tell you that you are acting suspiciously and use that as reason to enter. You have obviously never been arrested by these drug warriors. They don't follow the laws. Get it into your head.

Robert
Robert

Guest, please understand that I attended about thirteen hours of Chris Bartkowicz' evidentiary and motions hearings, and his sentencing -- you happen to be mistaken: Bartkowicz' waiver of his rights is why he is now serving five years in Federal prison. The DEA did not have probable cause to arrest or search, but they induced Chris to waive his rights, and that is what doomed his defense.

Mary J. Stanley
Mary J. Stanley

At that time, there were hundreds of dispensaries in Colorado advertising what they were doing loudly. Bartkowicz felt so protected by the Ogden Memo, he felt it was OK to go on TV. How was his TV appearance any different from the hundreds of ads in Westword and other publications?

CoreyDonahue
CoreyDonahue

Yeah Frank your right CTI does need to stop fear mongering. The government both state and federal are fully in support of relaxed cannabis laws and the legalization of Cannabis. The Hagg memo, the raids in Montana and raids around the country etc. are just a part of the governments huge April fools joke. I cant wait for April 1 this is going to be the greatest trick of all times.

Frank
Frank

CTI needs to stop fear mongering. The "Haag memo" is completely irrelevant here in Colorado as the US Attorney in California has absolutely no say in the enforcement priorities of the Colorado U.S. Attorney.

solar_satellite
solar_satellite

Only an idiot could read the memo and come out with that! The enforcement priorities of Wash (which could change tomorrow) are very much overshadowed by this general repudiation of the policy stated in the Ogden memorandum. The behavior of the DEA is very much more likely to reflect the overall policy of the Injustice Department than that of Walsh. People may or may not be arrested, and charges may or may not be filed -- property forfeiture is another likely avenue of attack on medical cannabis in Colorado which can proceed without regard to the priorities of the local U.S Attorney.

Mary J. Stanley
Mary J. Stanley

What kind of agreement does the DEA have worked out in Colorado?

Kathleen Chippi
Kathleen Chippi

Clearly the feds are behaving as if the Colorado Constitution protecting Colorado mmj patients, caregivers and physicians is meaningless. It's just as if we didn't vote for anything in 2000. The DEA will be cherry picking and EVERYONE will LIVE IN FEAR of arrest.

Now we have 2 mandatory lawsuits that need to happen immediately.1. challenging all unconstitutional state statute2. the state challenging the feds (along with other mmj states would be best)

And we can't do shit without money.cannabislawsuits.com

solar_satellite
solar_satellite

With regard to the application of Federal law, the Colorado Constitution IS meaningless. We are faced with counterrevolution and the betrayal of our Constitution by our legislature, courts, and false representatives occupying office, who are forsworn in their oaths to uphold the Constitution, acting in collusion with the entrenched, fascist Federal Injustice Department, which may disregard it. Reject fascism across America, starting in Colorado!

There is still every reason to prosecute the Patient and Caregiver Rights Litigation Project's suits -- we must confront the General Assembly's arrogance and contempt for the will of the People with the force of the Law of Colorado!

CTI
CTI

The Ogden Memo has to be the most misunderstood document in the medical marijuana industry. On the one hand it says the DEA should allocate their resources elsewhere, but on the other hand it says the memo shall not be used as a defense in court.

The Ogden Memo was only a statement of "priorities" to give "guidance" with regards to medical patients and caregivers. The memo clearly said the feds still consider "commercial enterprises" to be a target. And priorities (unlike law) can change at any time. It was written merely to give guidance, not to be binding on the US Attorneys.

The most important part of the Ogden Memo is this: "This guidance regarding resource allocation does not ... provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law."

The US Attorney who prosecuted Chris Bartkowicz actually made Bartkowicz read that passage from the Ogden Memo on the stand at his motion's hearing. The US Attorney asked Chris (paraphrase), "Now Mr. Bartkowicz, a reasonable person could not have read that memo and thought that it was a green light to grow marijuana, could they?" The feds told him in court that the memo didn't mean anything, and Chris got 5 years because he erroneously relied on that memo.

The Haag Memo does clarify the Ogden Memo in the fact that the feds say they will be enforcing the Constrolled Substances Act "regardless of state laws." That memo was written in response to a request from the Oakland City Attorney. If the state of Colorado were to request the same information from the local US Attorney's office, they would probably get a letter back very similar to the Haag Memo. Haag wrote the memo after consultion with US AG Eric Holder and the Deputy US AG, after all, so it is unlikely their opinion on this matter would change.

Many MMC-applicants and industry groups like MMIG to this day rely on the Ogden Memo for their protection from the feds, even though the memo clearly says it "does not provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law". The Haag Memo saying that state law doesn't matter to the feds should be of concern to everyone in Colorado who supports states' rights.

CoreyDonahue
CoreyDonahue

This is even more a reason to legalize it the government will not stop harassing and profiting off of marijuana. Jack Herer is right, "Either you are on the U.S. government's side or you are on the Earth's side with me!"

LarryQ5
LarryQ5

All this and more over a frickin weed....what a sad sad commentary.

solar_satellite
solar_satellite

The letter from US Attorney Melinda Haag to Oakland City Attorney John Russo was wriitten in consultation with Attorney General Holder. It appertains to the licensure of growing facilities for medical cannabis. It is a statement of Federal policy throughout the United States -- you'll find nothing within which would act to qualify or restrict the application of that policy to California.

I do expect some combination of actions by the State and Federal governments to nullify the voters' decision to make access to medical cannabis part of our Constitution. HB10-1284 already allows the DOR to disclose the location of all grows to any law enforcement agency (e.g. the DEA), and the attempt this year in HB11-1043 to force caregivers to register their grows sets the stage for the DEA to know where every single legal plant other than patients' own is in Colorado. The prohibitionists want to serve up our entire community to the Federal criminal injustice system on a silver platter. Even a few raids of dispensaries putatively not in compliance with Colorado's medical cannabis laws would have a decided chilling effect on cannabis commerce, and I do believe that we should expect them. Note that Colorado has issued exactly no licenses for dispensing or growing cannabis and proposes (in HB11-1043) to prevent anyone from attempting to enter the business for yet another year.

The Haag memo must be seen for what it is: a betrayal of the medical cannabis community which helped elect him by President Obama. I sent the following letter to the President, the Senators of Colorado and California, Rep. DeGette, and Ms. Haag:

Robert ChaseColorado Coalition for Patients and CargiversDenver, CO 80218

The President1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NWWashington, DC 20500

March 19, 2011

Dear Mr. President,

Your disavowal of the principle enunciated in the Ogden memorandum has not gone unnoticed. We, the People of the United States, demand the resignations of Attorney General Holder and US Attorney Melinda Haag. The dissolution of the DEA and the repeal of the Controlled Substances Act are essential elements of our determination that America become once again "the land of the free". Our status as the leading prison-nation in the world is a completely unacceptable outrage, and drastically reducing our prison population must be America’s first priority.

Haag's memo reveals the "United States Justice Department" to be an illegitimate institution waging war against the people of the United States, and an enemy of American liberty. Real Americans will act against the criminal gang of fascists controlling the Congress, many state legislatures, the Courts, and their Schutzstaffel, the Injustice Department. No terrorist or serial murderer threatens our society more than rabid animals like Haag and the dupes who continue to prop them up.

Your failure to resist fascism renders you unfit to serve a second term. People who use cannabis read, think, and vote. I for one am done with the kind of political expediency which has allowed the Greater and Lesser Fascist Parties to control our private lives. To whatever extent you are motivated by pragmatism, please consider that my contention that millions of your core voters will simply not accept your retreat from respecting states' medical cannabis laws may be true.

Sincerely,

Robert Chase, Founder of the Colorado Coalition for Patients and Caregivers

copatientsandcaregivers@gmail.com

Sean Swanson
Sean Swanson

Thank you for sharing. Would you mind replying with the email addresses to the President, the Senators of Colorado and California, Rep. DeGette, and Ms. Haag so we can all forward the same email?

solar_satellite
solar_satellite

Thanks for your support. I don't have e-mail addresses for any -- I submitted the letter individually at each of their websites. Melinda Haag's fax number (from the memo) is (415) 436-7234

prd
prd

Looks like Hagg forgot she is below U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in the chain of command. She is still using the old playbook which says push around hippie cannabis users and use it as a stepping stone for political office.

solar_satellite
solar_satellite

See below. The first paragraph makes it clear that the letter may be taken to reflect the opinion of the Attorney General.

solar_satellite
solar_satellite

I meant the first paragraph of Haag's letter -- please, anyone with the slightest interest in cannabis, just READ THE FIRST THREE PARAGRAPHS OF HAAG'S LETTER!

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