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Medical marijuana seizure letters intrusion on state law, senator says

National Cannabis Industry Association exec Aaron Smith predicted that officials would speak out against seizure letters sent to 23 medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 of schools by U.S. Attorney John Walsh -- and now, one is doing so.

Senator Pat Steadman, who's behind an MMJ financial co-op proposal, strongly criticizes the approach.

"I absolutely consider this an intrusion," Steadman says. "I also think it's interesting that they have chosen to target businesses that are complying with state law. Originally, we had been told that unambiguous compliance with state law would help avoid federal prosecution. But now, they have been very selective in terms of which particular provision of state law they're going to ignore and not give people credit for complying with."

Nonetheless, Steadman isn't ready to assume that a federal crackdown on all dispensaries is imminent.

"Given that the letter they just sent gives business owners a certain window of time with which to take corrective action, it's premature to say how much of a problem this really is. Everyone may figure out a way to come into compliance and solve the problem without people kicking down the door and seizing their business. But I hope this isn't a signal that there will be future prosecutions of other businesses that are in compliance with state law. I would hope the federal government would leave this matter to the states, because I think in Colorado, we've done a fair job of creating a regulatory system to control this industry and insure that it complies with our constitution."

In Denver, MMCs that receive such letters will be able to change locations. But new addresses may be in short supply, especially if centers want to stay at least 1,000 feet from both schools and parks. While the latter weren't mentioned in Walsh's letter, they have been cited in similar orders sent by feds in California, and marijuana attorney Warren Edson is advising clients forced to move to keep parks at that distance, too.

As Steadman notes, doing so won't be easy, "particularly in a city like Denver, where we have a wonderful park system. But proximity to playgrounds is an issue that's come up in the legislature before, and there's always the question of how you define a playground. Is every swing set in a backyard a playground? How many teeter-totters do you have to have before it's considered a playground?

"You can start to quibble, but my personal view is that these 1,000 foot radiuses really aren't effective at preventing whatever problems they're designed to prevent. There's nothing magical to distinguish what happens at a distance of 990 from 1,010 feet. These boundaries are creating a false sense of security and pandering to unbased fears."

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