Is the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division using information from license applications to bust weed cultivators?
A recent Associated Press story about an allegedly illegal grow raised such fears -- ones MMED spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait hopes to assuage.
The incident in question took place earlier this month. According to the Associated Press, MMED chief of enforcement Marco Vasquez -- a former supervisor in the Denver Police Department's narcotics bureau -- accompanied SWAT officers and other law-enforcement types on a "suspected illegal marijuana garden in a warehouse across the street from a Pentecostal church." Vasquez added that the owner of the warehouse "had license applications pending for five cultivation locations, but not for the one raided Friday in an industrial park where police found 1,500 plants."
This item raised concerns that the MMED might be looking for inconsistencies in applications and then alerting other police agencies about potential violations rather than contacting the individual in question to work things out in a non-adversarial manner. But Postlethwait, who declines to name the person or business targeted because the investigation is continuing, says things don't typically work that way.
"In the majority of cases, law enforcement contacts us to make sure an application is in place," she allows. "They usually find out there is one, and then they move on."
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Postlethwait says the aforementioned warehouse grow was unusual, in that an application was on file, but the address in question wasn't listed. That's why Vasquez was invited to join other officers headed to the scene. She stresses that "this was their rodeo" -- and also the first time Vasquez saddled up and accompanied a raiding party as part of his current job. He came along in "an effort to work together and share information. Our inspectors have a good handle on the medical marijuana code and they bring an institutional knowledge."
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When it's applicable, "we will partner with local law enforcement, or any law enforcement," Postlethwait notes. "After all, we are a law-enforcement agency." But she says the MMED's primary mission "is to regulate the industry. And if we have a legitimate business owner who's trying to come into compliance, we're going to work with them. I spend much of my day helping people understand the rules and how to work within them."
The MMED's records "provide a bright line for law enforcement," she maintains. "If other law-enforcement agencies check on something and we can show them 'This is legitimate,' that's usually all they need to hear. But if a cultivation isn't legitimate, they're going to act on it."
More from our Marijuana archive: "War on drugs' 40th anniversary: Protesters at Skyline Park say policy has failed (PHOTOS)."