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Feds: Colorado medical-marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school must close

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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.

John Ingold

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Comments
  • comment avatar Keegan January 13, 2012

    The one at 3rd and University in Cherry Creek will have to shut down–less than 500 feet from that school on Columbine.

    I guess I’m wondering if there is a dispensary established and a school wants to open nearby, would that shut down the dispensary, or does the dispensary have some sort of right to stay because it was first? I guess it can’t stay open, given that this decision will shut down already existing dispensaries.

    Are there any other types of businesses already facing these kinds of restrictions, say like arcades/adult stores or clubs/bars? Can you apply this kind of restriction without applying it to others? I would challenge it in court. Under what basis is this regulation being applied? Safety? Why 1000 feet? Seems arbitrary.

  • comment avatar Jason H January 13, 2012

    I’m not sure its a good idea to challege this….because marijuana is *still* illegal. I’m not saying that I think it should be illegal, but the fact remains that it is. State law cannot make something legal thta is illegal under Federal law. So, if the Feds wanted to, they could just shut everyone down. This is effectively a formal compromise, and I believe that as such should be viewed as a victory by the pro-legalization group.

  • comment avatar Julia C January 13, 2012

    This seems reasonable….. There is no need for dispensaries within 1000 feet of a school….. Can we include liquor stores as well if they’re not already required to be 1000 ft or more away from schools….?

  • comment avatar Heather January 13, 2012

    (I live off Federal Blvd). I love my area (the Highlands) and the worst thing about it is all the dispensaries. It’s out of control.

  • comment avatar Michelle January 13, 2012

    Oh I’m Sure..But What they dont realize is , that Marijuana does take major Tolls on our kids today..Laziness and lake of motivation for life is def. not a good habit to take on as a young one..Keep the Pot Outta are kids reach thats all were asking : )

  • comment avatar Amelia January 13, 2012

    I have no problem with dispenaries, just as i have no problem with liquor stores. I do not, however, think they have any place near schools! It doesn’t seem an unreasonable rule to me — just stay away from schools!

  • comment avatar Cami January 13, 2012

    They are almost on every block near where I live down broadway, this is why I want to move before my son goes to school, I love the area, lived here all my life but it’s getting ridiculous!

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