Medical marijuana raids by DEA, "arrest everybody" comments by agent Jeff Sweetin prompt Jared Polis letter to U.S. Attorney General

Last week, we shared with you a letter medical marijuana advocate Rob Corry sent to the U.S. Inspector General regarding the Drug Enforcement Administration raid on Highlands Ranch medical marijuana grower Chris Bartkowicz.

Now, someone's sent another letter -- this one addressed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and copied to a certain President Barack Obama -- asking that Corry's complaints and concerns be addressed. That person? Representative Jared Polis.

The missive, originally posted on, finds Polis wading into the conflict between the Colorado constitution and federal drug policy that Bartkowicz attorney Joseph Saint-Veltri discussed at length in this space on Monday. Polis spokeswoman Lara Cottingham explains why he took this unusual step.

"Congressman Polis believes these raids are in contradiction to the will of the voters of Colorado and are an unwarranted federal intervention in the doctor patient relationship," Cottingham notes via e-mail. "President Obama has clearly stated his position on respecting states that have voted to allow medical marijuana, and the recent raids are contrary to that policy. Congressman Polis feels these actions strike fear into the hearts of many medical marijuana patients who are already dealing with chronic pain and suffering and must be stopped."

The letter specifically addresses recent published comments by DEA special agent Jeff Sweetin, a recent Westword interview subject, as well as the decision to charge Bartkowicz with federal violations -- an action defended by U.S. Attorney David Gaouette in another Westword post.

Here's what Polis had to say:

Attorney General Eric Holder U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

As you know, the voters in my state legalized marijuana for medical use, and placed it in the Colorado Constitution, Article XVIII § 14, the Supreme Law of Colorado.

The Department of Justice is to be commended for issuing formal written guidelines on October 19, 2009, clarifying that federal resources should not be used against people in compliance with state law in states that have legalized marijuana for medical use. When drug czar Gil Kerlikowske was in Colorado recently, I thanked him for taking this step and respecting our state law.

Despite these formal guidelines, Friday, February 12, 2010, agents from the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the home of medical marijuana caregiver Chris Bartkowicz in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. In a news article in the Denver Post the next day, the lead DEA agent in the raid, Jeffrey Sweetin, claimed "We're still going to continue to investigate and arrest people...Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law," he said. "The time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building and we arrest everybody. They're violating federal law; they're at risk of arrest and imprisonment."

Agent Sweetin's comment that "we arrest everybody" is of great concern to me and to the people of Colorado, who overwhelmingly voted to allow medical marijuana. Coloradans suffering from debilitating medical conditions, many of them disabled, elderly, veterans, or otherwise vulnerable people, have expressed their concern to me that the DEA will come into medical marijuana dispensaries, which are legal under Colorado law, and "arrest everybody" present. Although Agent Sweetin reportedly has backed away from his comments, he has yet to issue a written clarification or resign, thus the widespread panic in Colorado continues.

On May 14, 2009, Mr. Kerlikowske told the Wall Street Journal: "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country." The actions and commentary of Mr. Sweetin are inconsistent with the idea of not waging war against the people of the State of Colorado and are a contradiction to your agency's laudable policies.

On Saturday, February 13, 2010, local Attorney Robert J. Corry, Jr. submitted a formal complaint regarding the raid and subsequent comments by Sweetin to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, which is tasked with investigating "waste, fraud, abuse, or misconduct" from Justice officials. I ask you to instruct the Inspector General to respond promptly to Mr. Corry's complaint.

On Tuesday, February 17, 2010, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado David Gaouette announced his office's intention to criminally charge Mr. Bartkowicz in federal court. In order to ensure a fair trial for Mr. Bartkowicz, it is essential that the confusion about administration policy caused by the actions of Agent Sweetin be resolved ahead of jury selection in this case. A response to Mr. Corry's complaint would serve as point of clarity.

I again applaud your policy. Treating drug policy as primarily an issue of public health, as opposed to an issue of criminal justice, is both practical and compassionate and it has been and will continue to be supported by the voters of Colorado. Please clarify for me in writing whether Agent Sweetin's comments that DEA will "arrest everybody" remains United States policy. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter. Sincerely,

Jared Polis Member of Congress

cc: President Barack Obama