Medical marijuana stats: Is White House looking for link between dispensaries and crime?

Last November, deputy attorney general David Ogden wrote a memo advising U.S. Attorneys in states where medical marijuana has been legalized to give a pass to MMJ businesses following local laws. But now, an e-mail trolling for info about dispensary-related crime suggests that some members of the Obama administration are working to undermine the industry.

The story comes from Complete Colorado, which published an e-mail from Aaron Flaster, a research assistant for Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, a special advisor for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The recipient of the letter? Dr. Ned Calonge, Colorado's chief medical officer. Here's the text of the e-mail:

Dear Mr. Calonge,

I was referred to you by Tom Gorman, HIDTA Director Co, and am writing on behalf of Dr. Kevin A. Sabet from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Dr. Sabet is collecting data pertaining to crime around medical marijuana dispensaries and Tom suggested that you might have some helpful records. We are looking for criminal statistics data that are directly connected to medical marijuana dispensaries, such as the number of dispensary employees or medical marijuana buyers that were arrested, fined or incarcerated for their involvement in dispensaries? The data may be for a specific state or nation wide; either would be greatly appreciated. However, since we have had some difficulty finding good data, I would just like to add that the data must be specific and verifiable. Dr. Sabet would also be interested in any information regarding the number or percentage of physicians in any state or nation wide that recommend medical marijuana. His main research focus is criminal statistics though. In the case that you do not have access to any data, do you know of anyone who might?

Thank you very much for your time and effort, and I look forward to your response.


Aaron Flaster Research Assistant to Dr. Kevin A. Sabet Executive Office of the President Office of the Director The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Neither Flaster nor Calonge have responded to inquiries about this note; when and if they do, this post will be updated. However, there's little doubt as to the e-mail's authenticity. Complete Colorado's Todd Shepherd reveals that he obtained it via an open-records request focusing on Calonge.

As noted in this Westword interview from January, Tom Gorman, who's mentioned at the top of the e-mail, is a so-called "drug-war soldier" who led the lobbying effort in favor of a medical marijuana bill that would have essentially outlawed dispensaries in Colorado. Calonge, for his part, pushed for reform of the relationship between doctors as medical marijuana patients; he outlined his concerns about abuse in this December 2009 post. But because he's not in the law enforcement field, it's strange that Gorman and/or Flaster thought he might have access to criminal statistics.

The stats themselves would presumably bolster arguments against the dispensary system. Opponents frequently talk about alleged drug dealers' participation in the MMJ biz, not to mention crimes like this dispensary robbery in Gilpin County.

But medical marijuana attorney Jessica Corry, who's long attempted to debunk the perception that medical marijuana and crime are synonymous, believes the search for statistical evidence is a fool's errand.

"While dispensaries have long been slandered by opponents as magnets for crime, the truth is that they actually decrease crime, taking power away from black market dealers and international cartels," she writes via e-mail. "Keep in mind that Denver's only reported MMJ-related death this year came in January, when a caregiver was shot to death in his own home after midnight."

To read more about that crime, which left Douglass Singleton dead, click here.

"While I can't speculate as to motives of the ONDCP here," Corry continues, "I'm confident that an objective analysis of any crime statistics will confirm findings by FBI, CBI, LAPD and DPD. These all conclude, within a percentage point or two, that you are twice as likely to be a victim of armed robbery or burglary at your local bank than you are at your local dispensary."

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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