Updates below: Westword has learned that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration is conducting raids at this writing at multiple marijuana businesses in the Denver area.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver has issued a statement confirming the ongoing operation, which is being conducted by the DEA in collaboration with the Internal Revenue Service and the Denver Police Department. Our sources tell us it's likely to continue throughout the day and involves a notable number of targets.
The statement -- issued by Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Walsh, who's been designated to speak for the assorted agencies involved -- is shy of details. Moreover, Dorschner declines to elaborate on it.
However, we've been told a tip received in the Westword newsroom this morning about forty sites being targeted is too high. A closer estimate: fewer that twenty.
Dorschner's statement begins like so: "The Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, the Denver Police Department and state and local law enforcement are today executing lawfully obtained search warrants and seizure warrants."
Such actions would seem to contradict a late August memo issued under the name of Deputy Attorney General James Cole, which stated that the federal government would allow states like Colorado to move forward with marijuana laws even if they contradicted federal policy.
This apparent disconnect is addressed in what's described as an "important note" in the statement. It reads: "Although we cannot at this time discuss the substance of this pending investigation, the operation under way today comports with the Department's recent guidance regarding marijuana enforcement matters."
The statement's final word? "As this is an on-going investigation, no additional information will be made available."
The line above does not include an estimate of if or when such info will be forthcoming. But as we learn more, we'll share it with you.
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Update number one, 11:15 a.m.: Rumors are flying about targets of the federal raids described above, with reliable sources within the scene citing VIP Wellness among other locations. Also mentioned was Cherry Top Farms, from which the feds took an estimated 2,500 plants back in October 2011 and didn't immediately allow to reopen -- so it's possible this is a reference to the location rather than the original business.
We've also debunked several reports about closures. But we now know that the raids have gone beyond Denver: Swiss Medical in Boulder has also been hit.
However, there's little doubt there's something going on at marQaha, 3896 Morrison Road. Here's a photo that was sent our way.
Update number two, 12:41 p.m.: A Westword staffer just got off the phone with the owner of Swiss Medical, and what he had to say sheds interesting light on the ongoing DEA raids of marijuana operations. According to the owner, the raid was prompted by one person among multiple tenants using its space -- but the plants belong to everyone were seized. The reason is undoubtedly the same as the rationale for taking all the plants from Cherry Top Farms back in 2011 -- an event noted above. As U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner told us at the time, agents actually followed suspects to Cherry Top Farms, which was in compliance with state rules. But because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, federal law enforcers are required to seize weed whenever and wherever they encounter it.
Hence, all the Swiss Medical tenants lost their plants, even though only one of them was on the feds' radar.
Update number three, 1:44 p.m.: Just received another marijuana business raid photo, this one from South Jason Street in Denver. As you can see, cannabis has simply been tossed outside.
Update number four, 2:13 p.m.: Although U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner stated earlier that no additional information would be released in regard to federal raids on marijuana businesses, he has just issued a clarification to the earlier remarks shared above. The new line reads: "While the investigation is ongoing, there are strong indications that more than one of the eight federal prosecution priorities identified in the Department of Justice's August guidance memo are potentially implicated."
We referred above to the August memo. Here's the list of eight federal priorities:
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• Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
• Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;
• Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
• Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
• Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
• Preventing drugged riving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
• Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property
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More from our Marijuana archive circa August 29: "Marijuana: Obama administration will not sue to stop Amendment 64."