Medical marijuana: U.S. Attorney may target grows with future closure letters

Update: On Friday, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced that it had sent another 25 seizure-threat letters to medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools; see details in our original coverage below. However, some language in the letters differed from the first mailing in January. Now, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Walsh confirms one implication of such tweaks: MMJ grows near schools may be targeted next time around.

"The purpose of the letter is to give fair warning that if marijuana distribution or cultivation was occurring within 1,000 feet of a school, there would be consequences," says Jeff Dorschner, speaking for Walsh. "We wanted to make sure legally that if there was a situation in which a grow was within 1,000 feet of a school, those who received the targeted letters would know the grow could also be the subject of enforcement action."

Other textual adjustments -- they can be found on page two of the most recent letters, both of which are on view below -- pertain to marijuana or marijuana-infused products that might be found on the premises of a dispensary after it's shut down.

"The last paragraph essentially states that should agents, in the process of confirming that a marijuana store has closed, come into contact with contraband, they can and will seize the contraband," Dorschner notes.

Dorschner emphasizes that in what his office sees as the "second phase" of its efforts to force the shuttering of dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools, each center "has 45 days to close or they face enforcement action."

As for grows, the fresh verbiage doesn't guarantee that they'll be included in future mailings of closure letters, of which there should be at least one more. Rather, says Dorschner, "it's the possibility that they could be."

Continue to read our earlier coverage.

Original March 23 item, followed by update: In January, U.S. Attorney John Walsh sent letters to 23 dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools, warning that they'd be subject to forfeiture and seizure if they didn't close or move within 45 days. At that time, Walsh's spokesman, Jeff Dorschner, promised that a "second wave" of letters would follow, and he's as good as his word. Today, Dorschner confirms that letters have gone out to 25 more medical marijuana centers.

According to Dorschner, the latest letter is similar to the original version, on view below. For instance, recipients still have 45 days to shut down operations or face the seizure of their property. However, he acknowledges that "there have been minor revisions, some technical changes."

The first time around, Dorschner noted that the majority of dispensaries targeted were in the Denver area. This time around, he describes the list as "more geographically diverse. But it does include a number of marijuana stores in Denver."

How about Boulder? Earlier this month, Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett wrote Walsh a letter asking the feds to back off any attempt to close MMCs in the city that are otherwise compliant with state and local ordinances. On Wednesday, Walsh responded with a letter defending the actions and maintaining that he's received an outpouring of appreciation from Coloradans in "affected communities." And Dorschner confirms that Boulder is indeed represented on the second list.

Of the 23 MMCs that received letters in January, 22 of them closed or moved. The 23rd letter was withdrawn after the U.S. Attorney's Office determined that the building that staffers thought was a school attended by children was actually an administration building.

Are more mailings in the works after this batch works through the system? "There will be at least one more," Dorschner says, "and possibly others."

Update, 2:38 p.m. March 23: We've just received not one but two redacted versions of letters than went out to what the U.S. Attorney's Office described as "marijuana stores." But the documents suggest that the targets of these documents either have been expanded or can be in the future.

While the letter sent in January refers specifically to a "marijuana dispensary," the latest pair change that to read "marijuana dispensary and/or optional premises grow center."

Does that mean U.S. Attorney Walsh will also be looking to shut down grows within 1,000 feet of schools, in addition to retail operations? If so, are some of the 25 letter recipients grow owners, as opposed to MMC owners? Or was the language put in place early, so no change will be necessary when grows are added?

We've put in followup calls to U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner for clarification; we'll update this post when he gets back to us. In the meantime, here are the two letters -- one designated as a "dispensary" letter, the other labeled a "property" letter. That's followed by the original letter from January.

John Walsh Second Wave Dispensary Letter

John Walsh Second Wave Property Letter

U.S. Attorney John Walsh Redacted Letter to Medical Marijuana Dispensary

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: DA Stan Garnett defends telling feds to back off Boulder MMCs."

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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.
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