Chris Bartkowicz believed he was following the law. So when KUSA wanted a videotaped interview of his basement growing operation, Bartkowicz agreed. Soon after the "tease" promoting the piece aired, Bartkowicz's house was raided by the DEA.
At the time, the DEA special agent in charge of the case, Jeff Sweetin, conceded to 9News that Bartkowicz did not believe his actions were criminal: "According to him and according to what he's seen on the news he probably believes he is legal."
It's no wonder there is confusion. Colorado's Amendment 20 and subsequent regulations make medicinal marijuana legal. Federal law, which supersedes state law, does not recognize the medicinal properties of marijuana.
Yet the issue is not so cut and dried: in March of 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would not prosecute medical marijuana distributors that followed state law. Observers viewed that as a sweeping policy change. In October of last year, Holder issued a memo detailing the government's drug enforcement priorities:
As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.
In prosecuting Bartkowicz, the government has shifted tactics. At first, U.S. Attorney David Gaouette stated that Bartkowicz had too many plants for the amount of patients he had and was in violation of state law. Finally, they decided Bartkowicz should not even be able to mention the state's medicinal marijuana laws as a defense.
In yesterday's motion hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney M.J. Menendez made the argument that "a reasonable person would not rely on statements made by Holder or Obama."
Federal District Judge Philip Brimmer agreed. According to Judge Brimmer's ruling, at his trial (set to begin November 1), Bartkowicz can not use Colorado's medical marijuana laws as a defense.
If convicted, Bartkowicz faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 years.