Pubdate: Fri, 20 Jan 2012
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2012 The Denver Post Corp
Author: John Ingold


U.S. Attorney John Walsh justifies federal crackdown on 
medical-marijuana shops U.S. Attorney John Walsh said Thursday 
evidence that medical marijuana is having a detrimental impact on 
Colorado kids spurred his decision to crack down on dispensaries near schools.

Walsh, in the strongest federal action against dispensaries in 
Colorado to date, sent letters last week to 23 dispensaries within 
1,000 feet of schools. The letters ordered the dispensaries to close 
by Feb. 27 or face potential criminal prosecution or seizure of 
assets, even though those dispensaries are operating in compliance 
with state law.

On Thursday, Walsh said state law plays a part in deciding how to use 
his prosecutorial discretion with medical-marijuana businesses, which 
are strictly illegal under federal law. But Walsh said protection of 
important federal interests takes precedence.

"One of those interests, without question, is protecting drug-free 
zones around schools," he said.

Walsh said his office is working to identify any other dispensaries 
near schools and said the crackdown may extend to other types of 
medical-marijuana businesses - such as cultivation operations - that 
are close to schools.

What prompted the decision to send the letters, Walsh said, was 
evidence that medical marijuana is being diverted to youths. For 
instance, a report published last year by Denver Health 
drug-treatment doctor Christian Thurstone found that, of 80 kids 
admitted for substance-abuse treatment, nearly half said they had 
received marijuana from someone with a medical-marijuana license.

Walsh also mentioned a rising number of drug-related school 
suspensions, expulsions and law enforcement referrals. In the 2008-09 
school year, before Colorado's boom in medical-marijuana 
dispensaries, 534 students were expelled for drug violations, 
according to state Education Department data. In the 2010-11 school 
year, that number was 767.

"The threat to kids . . . came up to the top of the list," he said.

Medical-marijuana advocate Brian Vicente said Walsh's actions are a 
"federal overreach" and said Walsh should leave the policing of 
medical-marijuana businesses up to the state. He said Walsh hasn't 
presented evidence that dispensaries are providing marijuana to kids 
or responsible for the increase in expulsions.

"Colorado has done a remarkable job in regulating the sales of 
medical marijuana at both the state and local level," Vicente said. 
"I think the federal government needs to respect that."

Walsh said he has been measured in his approach to dispensaries but 
said he does not have a defined list of criteria dispensaries must 
follow to avoid federal prosecution. He said he considers such things 
as whether dispensaries are targeting kids, engaged in money 
laundering, connected to organized crime, involved in selling 
marijuana out of state or linked to firearms and violence when 
deciding whether to prosecute the businesses.
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