Pubdate: Sun, 07 Sep 2014
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2014 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Trevor Hughes
Page: 3


DENVER - Every time he goes to work, Harvard-trained lawyer Andrew 
Freedman faces federal prosecution over the source of his paycheck: 
Colorado's burgeoning marijuana industry.

Freedman, the governor's chief marijuana adviser, faces prison time 
if federal prosecutors decide to step in. That's because federal law 
still considers marijuana as dangerous as heroin or cocaine, and 
prosecutors could easily bring drug-trafficking charges if they 
choose. Freedman's salary is paid by the taxes collected on legal 
marijuana sales.

"I'm in murky territory every day," Freedman said.

Tens of thousands of marijuana growers, bud tenders, edibles makers, 
store owners and couriers working in Colorado and Washington and any 
of the other 21 states and the District of Columbia that have 
legalized recreational or medical marijuana face the same penalties.

The risk is even greater for dozens of former cops and soldiers 
working as armed guards in the marijuana industry because federal 
drug-trafficking laws prescribe far stiffer penalties for anyone 
using a firearm while handling drugs and money. Several of the guards 
interviewed by USA TODAY say they chose to work for Blue Line 
Protection Group despite the legal risks, saying it was safer than 
being shot at by insurgents or dealing with violent criminals daily.

Federal prosecutors have held off bringing charges against security 
firms protecting and servicing the marijuana industry, even though 
they're aware of the flagrant violations. USA TODAY in July published 
numerous photos of Colorado-based security-firm workers carrying pot, 
cash and weapons - photos federal agents and prosecutors say they saw.

The situation highlights the tenuous balance federal prosecutors 
strike as they monitor the sale of legalized marijuana. Marijuana 
remains illegal at the federal level, even though voters in Colorado 
and Washington have allowed adults to possess and consume it for fun.

Federal officials say they're trying to balance state law while 
keeping pot out of the hands of kids and profits away from drug cartels.

Marijuana-industry workers acknowledge the risks, but say they're 
assuming federal prosecutors will leave them alone as long as they 
keep to the strictest interpretation of the state law.

"If you touch the product, then you're at risk for federal 
prosecution," said Michael Jerome, a spokesman for Blue Line, which 
provides armed guards to transport marijuana and cash for potshop 
owners. "That's why we're trying to make it safe and legitimate and 
responsible, so we can respect the wishes of the voters of the state 
of Colorado and keep the federal government out of it."

Blue Line, like many of the approximately 100 other security firms, 
explains the situation to new hires in the several states it 
operates. Pay for a Blue Line store guard starts at $13 an hour but 
can go up rapidly based on assignments, such as cash transport and 
management, that only workers with extensive experience can snag. For 
former soldiers, in particular, working for Blue Line is a way to 
acclimate to civilian life and build a resume.

"We don't keep any secrets from prospective employees, because we 
don't want them to get into a situation they'll regret in the future 
or that will get them into potential legal problems," Jerome said. 
"But if enough states come online, then the hope is that the feds 
will finally change the legal standards related to marijuana; or, at 
the very least, there will be so many people operating in the lawful 
state industries that any federal enforcement action would be met 
with huge public backlash and potential legal action from the states."
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