Feds: Colorado medical-marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school must close
posted by: Guest Blogger
Federal prosecutors announced Thursday a crackdown on medical-marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, the most aggressive law-enforcement action yet against the businesses in the state.
The U.S. Attorney’s office today sent letters to 23 dispensaries located within 1,000 feet of a school. The dispensaries were told they have 45 days to close or face criminal prosecution and forfeiture of property.
“When the voters of Colorado passed the limited medical marijuana amendment in 2000, they could not have anticipated that their vote would be used to justify large marijuana stores located within blocks of our schools,” Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh said in a statement announcing the crackdown.
Colorado law specifies that dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet from schools but also allows local governments to shrink that distance or grandfather in existing dispensaries.
The 1,000-foot buffer is also significant because it triggers enhanced penalties under federal law.
Federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents are working to identify other dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools.
The U.S. Justice Department has previously said it would not target people operating in compliance with state medical-marijuana law. It then clarified that policy over the summer to state the exemption doesn’t apply to dispensaries and their owners.
The letters sent out today are sharply worded and leave little room for confusion.
“The dispensary is operating in violation of federal law, and the Department of Justice has the authority to enforce the federal law where appropriate even when such activities may be permitted under state law,” the letter reads. “Persons and entitities who operate or facilitate the operation of such dispensaries are subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions under federal law.”
U.S. attorneys in California had previously sent such letters to dispensaries in that state. But federal prosecutors in Colorado had held off, leading to speculation that Colorado’s rigorous medical-marijuana business regulations would keep the federal government at bay.
Colorado has about 700 dispensaries, according to the most recent count of businesses that had an active license application pending with state regulators.