As we noted in a September 10 post, the February arrest of Highlands Ranch marijuana grower Chris Bartkowicz, as well as his subsequent indictment, has been a rallying point for local medical-marijuana activists. That will literally be true tomorrow, when members of major MMJ advocacy organizations will gather at his next hearing with a plan to march inside the courthouse.
As you'll recall, Bartkowicz was busted shortly after showing off his grow to a 9News reporter. DEA personnel saw a website piece about the interview and raided his home, which was less than 1,000 feet from a school -- a factor that ratchets up the potential time Bartkowicz can spend in stir.
Joseph Saint-Veltri, Bartkowicz's attorney, told Westword earlier this month that the federal mandatory minimum sentence for cultivation of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school is five years -- but that's multiplied by Bartkowicz's previous criminal history. According to the government's indictment papers, he's facing a minimum sixty-year sentence -- meaning U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer's only discretion would be to tack on additional time, up to life in prison, not lessen it.
This prospect is shocking to Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, one of several marijuana organizations taking part in the rally.
"This is an incredible miscarriage of justice," Vicente maintains. "And we're trying to draw attention to the fact that we have a Colorado citizen who's facing life in prison for growing marijuana medically. And beyond that, they're attempting to not even allow him to bring a medical defense, or to even say the word 'medical' in court."
Why? Because Bartkowicz is facing federal charges -- and according to the U.S. government, marijuana is a Schedule 1 narcotic that has no medical use. As such, prosecutors want the judge to disallow any attempts to note that medical marijuana is legal in Colorado according to Amendment 20, passed by the state's voters in 2000.
Tomorrow's motions hearing, slated to begin at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse, at 901 19th Street, will consider Saint-Veltri's objections to this restriction, among a number of other complaints -- including his contention that the amount of time Bartkowicz faces qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.
"Some would say this was not a crime of violence," Saint-Veltri pointed out earlier this month. "Some would say many other people are doing what Bartkowicz is accused of doing and aren't being prosecuted at all, much less being subjected to a mandatory minimum sentence of sixty years."
Of course, Bartkowicz's potential sentence would be considerably smaller if he didn't have prior marijuana convictions. Vicente acknowledges not knowing much about the particulars of his past record -- "but the real point for us," he says, "is the fact that we have rogue agents and a rogue U.S. Attorneys office in Colorado that is ignoring the will of our state's voters and the statements of the Obama administration that they shouldn't be prosecuting folks for medical marijuana.
"This is an absolute misuse of the state's resources to prosecute someone and jail them for an immense amount of time for medical marijuana," Vicente goes on. "We're looking at a cost of about $30,000 a year to jail someone, and he could be jailed for sixty years. It shows how out of touch agents of the federal government continue to be in their zealousness to prosecute individuals in a war on drugs that's entirely irrational and a massive waste of taxpayer dollars."
With that in mind, Vicente and company plan to gather "bright and early at the courthouse tomorrow and make our presence known -- provide support by marching inside and letting the judge and the prosecutor know that there's not support for these kinds of prosecutions in Colorado."
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Page down to see releases about the event from Sensible Colorado. Representatives of the Cannabis Therapy Institute and the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies are also taking part.
Sensible Colorado release:
Life in Prison for Growing Medical Marijuana?
Not in Colorado!
Dear MMJ Supporters,
Colorado caregiver Christopher Bartkowicz is facing life in federal prison for growing medicine for sick Colorado patients. We need your help in bringing attention to this government supported atrocity. Join us on Wednesday, September 22 at 8am as we rally at the Federal Courthouse in Denver. Then make your way inside to show support as Bartkowicz's attorney makes the most important arguments of the case-- whether all charges should be dismissed because Bartkowicz was following Colorado law. Concurrently, the US Attorney will argue Bartkowicz should be prohibited from even mentioning the words "medical marijuana" at his jury trial scheduled for November 1st, 2010.
This is a crucial day for medical marijuana in Colorado, and we need your support to tell the feds we will not stand by as they attempt to destroy Colorado's medical marijuana community!
WHAT: Protest to support Chris Bartkowicz and Colorado Medical Marijuana Patients
WHEN: Wednesday, September 22nd, 8:00-8:30am
NOTE from CTI: Chris' hearing starts at 9am, so be in line to get through security into the courhouse by 8:30am.
WHERE: Alfred A. Arraj United States Courthouse (west entrance), 901 19th Street, Denver, Colorado 80294.
COURTOOM: 7th floor -- The Honorable Judge Philip Brimmer
WHY: No one should be sent to jail for growing legal medical marijuana.
WHAT TO BRING: Signs, water bottles, noise making devices
BE RESPECTFUL and DRESS TO IMPRESS! Please be very respectful in the courtroom. No signs or noisemaking devices or even T-shirts with slogans on them inside. We don't want to harm Chris' case, but we do want to be there to show support.