In January, U.S. Attorney John Walsh sent seizure-threat letters to 23 medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools -- and his office promises that a second wave of missives will follow shortly.
No new targets have been named yet, but clues about possible future actions can be found on a City of Denver document one MMJ lawyer has termed the "Doomsday Map."
Denver's Geographic Information Systems office creates the maps, but they're only available as physical printouts, not PDFs. Here's a look at the latest map, dated February 29.
To make this information more useful, Westword has created a Medical Marijuana Map Microsite that allows users to magnify specific areas on the map by placing the cursor over them. In addition, we've included closer views of various city sections.
The map symbolizes dispensaries as pot leaves and schools as traditional red schoolhouses, with circles around the dispensaries establishing the 1,000 feet perimeter. Any circle with a schoolhouse and a pot leaf inside it means the MMC in question could be vulnerable to federal scrutiny.
Also featured on the map are daycare centers, illustrated as white diamonds with child-like figures inside them, and parks -- patches colored green. And these inclusions concern members of the medical marijuana industry. Thus far, U.S. Attorney Walsh has only focused on dispensaries near schools, but in California, as reported in this October 2011 Rolling Stone piece, the feds have also gone after MMCS in near proximity to "parks, sports fields and other places where there are a lot of children." If Walsh expands his standards to include these spots, many more dispensaries could be in trouble.
According to attorney Warren Edson, the February 29 map follows a previous version published just over a month earlier, on January 19. But the new map updates schools for the first time since September 2009. Since one of Walsh's initial seizure threats had to be withdrawn because what was thought to be a school was actually an administration building, conspiracy theorists think the U.S. Attorney's Office may be relying on city maps to determine its next letter recipients -- hence the freshened-up version.
Another revelation: Edson says that the February 29 map shows thirty to forty fewer dispensaries than the one from January 19. "You can see it glaringly on Sheridan Boulevard, in the Highlands, in downtown and in Montbello," he says. "There were seven east of Havana in January, and there are three now."
The majority of these centers weren't close to schools, Edson adds, implying to him that the closures may be due to simple economics. He cites stats from California that suggest a center must attract 400-600 patients in order to sustain itself, "and with only 82,000 patients right now, well, when you do the math, there doesn't seem to be enough customers for all of them."
Other factors could be contributing to closures, too, Edson acknowledges. "They're in such a weird position, since they can't have loans from banks or lines of credit or any of the traditional stuff that helps stores when they're going through tough times." Plus, some of the now-vanished pot leaves may have been associated with "grows that got a retail license just in case, and when it came time for re-licensing, they decided not to open a retail location." (The map doesn't show locations for cultivation facilities.)
Still, Edson can't help wondering if the pressure being exerted by Walsh and company might be a contributing factor, as well. "If you're looking at whether or not to keep busting your ass to stay in this business, the federal government and its involvement in your life is a factor you'd weigh."
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana update: U.S. Attorney John Walsh rejects safe harbor for MMCs."