Jeffrey Sweetin, controversial DEA special agent, gets promoted: Sorry, haters

Jeffrey Sweetin, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Denver field office, has been a controversial figure in these parts, with medical marijuana attorney Rob Corry suggesting he'd gone rogue and Congressman Jared Polis citing him in a letter about MMJ policy to Attorney General Eric Holder. But he hasn't been censured. Although he'll soon be leaving the Denver office, he points out that he's been promoted.

"I'm going to Quantico, Virginia to run DEA's domestic and international training," Sweetin says. "We train all of our new agents when they come on the job. We train supervisors, executives and, in our international arena, we train law enforcement officers all over the world in issues related to drug investigations."

Sweetin, who was recruited for the position rather than pursuing it, adds that he'll be traveling back and forth between Colorado and Virginia over the next few months before settling back east, probably in September.

While Sweetin came to Denver's DEA office in July 2002 and took over as special agent in charge in January 2003, he truly came into the public's consciousness last February following the arrest of Highlands Ranch's Chris Bartkowicz, who'd shown off his home grow to a 9News reporter. In reference to the Bartkowicz raid, Sweetin told the Denver Post:

"We're still going to continue to investigate and arrest people... Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law. 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."

In a subsequent interview with Westword, Sweetin was much less strident, stressing that "we are not declaring war on dispensaries." But he's remained a lightning rod for the MMJ community, whose members see him as contradicting the spirit of an October 2009 Obama administration memo directing feds not to spend resources going after operations in states where medical marijuana has been legalized so long as the individuals and businesses in question are obeying local laws.

If MMJ supporters conclude that their complaints about Sweetin prompted him to be removed from the Colorado office, "it certainly wouldn't surprise me," he says. "Everything gets spun."

As for his responses to this theory, "one of them would be that if everybody in that industry who wants marijuana to be available to everyone is happy with me, that's a bad sign. The fact that there's some frustration -- and I get that there is -- is probably a good sign, because it means we've continued to do our mission.

"And I'd also say that if I was being moved because of those comments, it probably would have happened back when people were calling me 'rogue' -- but that issue seems to have died down a little bit. And I don't flatter myself into thinking that the president moved me. I don't think I'm on his radar screen. And most people aren't punished by being promoted. I don't think they'd have me training the next generation of new agents otherwise."

The next person to be handed the Denver gig should be prepared for the spotlight, Sweetin believes:

"In all the fourteen states with medical marijuana laws, I think if you're running the DEA operation, it can be extremely high profile, whether you want it to be or not. But it depends on the community. The office here also works in Montana, which has medical marijuana, too, and most people in Montana have never heard of me. So it depends on how the media reacts, how the dispensary industry reacts, and where they get their information. But I'd say Colorado will continue to be a place where the DEA special agent in charge will have a hard time not being high profile."

But a few months from now, that'll be someone else's problem.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts