Although the Denver District Attorney's Office only has the power to prosecute local and state laws, its employees are held to a higher standard when it comes to marijuana.
Specifically, they aren't allowed to possess, grow or sell pot, since all of those things are illegal under federal law. But the office has taken its prohibitions a step further than that. In February, it updated its conduct policy to include a provision that prevents employees from benefiting from "income derived from a household member's ownership or financial interest in, or employment by" a marijuana business.
"Each one of my deputies is sworn to uphold state and federal law. This puts my office in an ethical dilemma," says Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey. "We don't prosecute federal statutes, but we still take that oath -- and that oath still means something to me. The fact that the federal government doesn't do its job is not my business."
The federal illegality of marijuana creates conflicts of interest for his staff, Morrissey says, laying out a hypothetical situation in which one of his deputy's spouses owned a marijuana business: What if his office had to prosecute a competing business for operating without a license or with an expired license or for violating some other part of Colorado's marijuana laws? In that situation, the DA's office could be accused of having an unfair bias, "and I am not going to get into that," Morrissey says.
DA workers also have to report if a family member gets a DUI or is arrested, he adds: "I'm protecting the integrity of this office."
Here is the policy for drug and alcohol use adopted this year:
"The Denver District Attorney's Office expects all of its employees to comply with the City and County of Denver Employees' Alcohol and Drug Policy (Executive Order 94). All employees are required to sign Executive Order 94 as a condition of employment. In addition to the prohibitions set forth in Executive Order 94, employees of the Denver District Attorney's Office are prohibited from consuming alcohol during office hours (including lunch time). Any violation of Executive Order 94 or this policy by a Deputy or Chief District Attorney will result in immediate dismissal.
"The Denver District Attorney's Office expects and requires its employees to abide by all local, state and federal laws at all times. Notwithstanding Colorado Constitutional Amendments 20 and 64, marijuana remains illegal under federal laws. The use, possession, cultivation or sale of marijuana by employees, on or off duty, is strictly prohibited. Employees of this office are prohibited from having any ownership or financial interest in, or being employed by, any retail or wholesale establishment involved in the sale of marijuana or marijuana products. Likewise, no employee of this office may benefit from income derived from a household member's ownership or financial interest in, or employment by, such a retail or wholesale establishment.
"Applicants for employment with the Denver District Attorney's Office may be subject to pre-employment drug and/or alcohol testing. All employees are subject to drug and alcohol testing if there is a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the employee is in violation of this policy.
"If a Deputy or Chief Deputy District Attorney is charged with Driving Under the Influence, or Driving While Ability Impaired, the practice of the Denver District Attorney's Office is to review each case individually. If the investigation reveals that the employee was driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance or driving while his/her ability was impaired by alcohol or a controlled substance, dismissal will be imposed."
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