Update: According to the manager at the Cherry Top Farms medical marijuana center, a raid yesterday targeted a contract grower, not Cherry Top or any of its employees. But because federal officers were involved, they seized all of the dispensary's live plants, medicine and more, despite it being completely legal under Colorado's rules and regulations.
"We are 100 percent compliant," emphasizes the manager, who requests that his name not be used in the wake of seizure. "But when the feds walk in, they can do whatever they want."
The manager identifies the target of the investigation as Nathan Do. He and his father, Ha Do, own Earth's Medicine, a Federal Boulevard dispensary that earned a mediocre review from medical marijuana critic William Breathes earlier this year; more on that later.
"He had heat on him from other situations, and he was here -- so they came to take care of him," the manager notes. "But when they got here, they were unable to turn a blind eye. And they did a lot of damage."
The first officers began showing up "at maybe 10:30 or 11 in the morning," the manager recalls. "They blocked the gates, and then progressively more and more agencies showed up. Originally, it was the Denver Police Department, and then it was the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division" -- we contacted MMED yesterday afternoon, and spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait e-mailed that she was unaware of the situation. "Then there were the feds. And when they got here, they decided they needed a search warrant for us, too."
Along the way, the manager continues, "they lined all of us up and questioned us and took our phones and badges" -- the identification badges mandated for dispensary employees by Colorado law. "Then they gave some of us the option to leave, after they handed over their IDs. But a few of us chose to stay, and we were forced to wait in a two-parking-space area, probably ten feet by ten feet, from 11 to 11. They did let us go to the bathroom, but you definitely had to ask permission."
Over the course of the day, the manager guesses that there were "close to three dozen officers here between the Denver Police Department, the Enforcement Division and the feds" -- representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney's Office. "They had their ducks in a row for Nathan, and then, in the afternoon, they faxed a federal search-and-seizure warrant, and showed up with a U-Haul."
Law-enforcers needed a lot of space. The manager says "they took all of our live plants, all of our medicine, all of our extracts, and all of our baked goods," plus at least one more thing. "We have these cute little tank-top T-shirts, and one of the female officers put one on and was dancing around. I said to one of the agents at the door, 'I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but that doesn't seem to be very professional.' And he said, 'It's been a long day. We're just trying to have some fun.'"
As for what happened to the T-shirt, the manager says, "It's not here. She took it."
When the twelve-hour ordeal was over, the center was cleaned out -- and as a result, it's not open for business today. The manager hopes the operation will be up and running again by early next week. After all, no one from Cherry Top Farms was arrested, and it's paperwork remains in order with the state. But the closure is obviously costing money, and the large amount of merchandise taken represents an even bigger hit. The manager doesn't have an estimate of its value yet, but the loss clearly will run into the many thousands of dollars.
Right now, Cherry Top Farms' attorneys are looking at their options, such as they are. Because marijuana remains against federal law, the manager concedes that "there's always a risk that something like this could happen. But it's not a deterrent. It's a little bit of a motivator. We're in it for a cause. This isn't just a business. We're here to help people, and we have our own personal mission about why we're involved in this. And we do things right."
Indeed, the manager remembers "the DEA saying while they were here that this was the best dispensary they've ever seen."
Earth's Medicine didn't get nearly as positive a salute from William Breathes in our aforementioned review. "I have yet to find a decent shop on Federal, and Earth's Medicine is no exception," he wrote. "I felt rushed the short eight minutes I was in the store -- and during my brief follow-up phone call, it was clear the owner had better things to do than talk with me."
The questions facing Nathan Do now will be coming from federal agents, not an MMJ reviewer. But Cherry Top Farms is paying the price, too.
"To me, this is a huge injustice to patients who are seeking an all-natural alternative to pharmaceuticals for their pain relief," the manager says. "And to see them come in like they were helping society was hard to swallow. We had nothing out of compliance or illegal. The state tells us how to operate, and we operate that way. But the feds can still come in and do whatever they want."
We've left another message for U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner. When and if he responds, we'll update this post again. In the meantime, look below for our earlier coverage. Original item, 7:15 p.m. October 13: U.S. Attorneys Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner confirms that an "enforcement action" took place today at or near the 4800 Brighton Boulevard location of the Cherry Top Farms dispensary.
The rest of the story is unclear at this point -- but the picture should come into focus tomorrow.
Westword first heard reports about a raid at the dispensary this afternoon; one witness says he saw four black SUVs, presumably transporting law-enforcement officers, outside the location. In addition, writer William Breathes spoke to nearby witnesses, who report seeing Cherry Top Farms employees lined up along a wall with their hands behind their back at around 1 p.m.
Breathes later drove by the scene and took the following photograph, which shows two Denver Police vehicles parked by the building. A couple of black SUVS are also visible in the shot.
Calls to the dispensary this afternoon weren't answered. And while Denver Police Department spokesman Detective John White was familiar with the incident, he identified Dorschner as the person charged with speaking about it.
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As of now, Dorschner is unable to go into specifics about exactly what happened beyond confirming the most basic facts. "Federal agents and task-force officers engaged in an enforcement action," he says.
Thus far, it's uncertain if Cherry Top Farms was the target of the raid, or if something tangential to the center is at play. But we shouldn't have to wait long to find out. According to Dorschner, "The details of that action will be made available tomorrow, when court documents are unsealed."
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