Marijuana grower Chris Bartkowicz charged with possession, intent to distribute 224 marijuana plants; read the criminal complaint here

Chris Bartkowicz, whose Highlands Ranch marijuana grow was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration last Friday after he was interviewed by 9News, has instantly become a major figure in the debate over medical marijuana in Colorado, with attorney Rob Corry calling for agents involved in the operation to be sacked, and advocate Matt Brown suggesting that the DEA appears to be engaging in harassment tactics.

Expect this debate to intensify now that Bartkowicz has been formally accused of "possession with intent to manufacture, distribute or dispense 224 marijuana plants" -- a crime that could net him between five and forty years behind bars and a fine of $2 million.

The complaint -- read it by clicking here -- makes it clear that DEA special agent Jeffrey Sweetin, interviewed in Westword today, learned about Bartkowicz from the 9News piece and took things from there.

Moreover, a U.S. Justice Department press release specifically addresses the assertion by the likes of Corry that an October 2009 memo advising the federal government to defer to states that have made medical marijuana legal doesn't apply in this case, because Bartkowicz had more marijuana than the law allowed.

The supposed limit -- three full grown plants and three fledgling plants -- will no doubt be debated as this case moves forward. Expect a lot of hue and cry, as well as a ratcheting up of fear among members of the medical marijuana community.

Here's that press release:


DENVER -- Chris Bartkowicz, age 36, of Highlands Ranch, was charged today by Criminal Complaint for possession with intent to manufacture, distribute or dispense 224 marijuana plants, U.S. Attorney David Gaouette and DEA Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Sweetin announced today. Bartkowicz was arrested without incident on Friday, February 12, 2010. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Denver before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon.

According to a DEA affidavit, on February 12, 2010, DEA agents read an article on the internet that referred to an individual who was operating a marijuana cultivation operation. The reporter who wrote the article interviewed Chris Bartkowicz, who stated he was operating a large marijuana cultivation operation in the basement of his $637,000 Highlands Ranch home. Bartkowicz stated that his marijuana cultivation included a jungle of electrical wires and water hoses from room to room. According to the story Bartkowicz provided an electrical bill to the journalist that showed he owed $3,694.92 for the last two months of service.

Also on February 12, 2010, law enforcement contacted Bartkowicz and asked for his consent to search the residence. He signed a consent to search form. He was also read his Miranda warnings. Bartkowicz also signed an "Advice of Rights" form. During a search of the residence agents and officers were presented twelve marijuana care-giver certificates. Agents and officers also confiscated approximately 224 marijuana plants (approximate 119 in various stages with root systems) and approximately 105 "clones" or "starter" plants.

United States Attorney David Gaouette pointed out that the U.S. Attorney's Office is in full compliance of a Department of Justice memorandum issued on October 19, 2009 by Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden. Specifically, according to the memo, medicinal marijuana growers' actions must be in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws. Bartkowicz was not in compliance with state law. In this case, the defendant possessed amounts of marijuana in excess of the amount allowed by the state (3 full grown plants and 3 fledgling plants).

"In this instance the defendant had in his possession more plants than state law allows," said U.S. Attorney David Gaouette. "The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to focus on large scale marijuana traffickers."

"The DEA continues to focus its resources on the investigation of major drug trafficking organizations that profit significantly from the cultivation and sale of marijuana and other illegal drugs," said Jeffrey Sweetin, Special Agent in Charge of the Denver DEA.

Bartkowicz is charged with possession with intent to manufacture, distribute, and dispense 224 marijuana plants. If convicted, the defendant faces not less than 5 and not more than 40 years in federal prison, as well as a $2,000,000 fine.

A Criminal Complaint is a probable cause charging document. Anyone accused of committing a federal felony crime has a Constitutional right to be indicted by a federal grand jury.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The defendant is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Phillips.

The charges in the indictment are allegations, and a defendant has the right to be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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