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When John Walsh, the Colorado U.S. Attorney, wrote state officials last month regarding the medical-marijuana rules in the state, the warning could not have been clearer.
Walsh wrote, “The department would consider civil actions and criminal prosecution regarding those who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries.”
In case that would happen, it could potentially throw into chaos the medical-marijuana industry in Colorado, which operates in apparent violation of federal law.
However, an in-depth examination of court cases in the state in the period of three years reveals that few resources were being spent by federal prosecutors in pursuing any kind of marijuana crimes.
The same is true before the medical-marijuana boom began in Colorado. During the years 2008, 2009 and 2010, officials pursued less than 10 marijuana-specific cases out of the hundreds of criminal prosecutions.
When federal prosecutors tackle marijuana issues, oftentimes in civil cases seeking to confiscate assets, they move only after the local officials have alleged violations of state law.
A spokesman for Walsh, Jeff Dorschner, said, “Our approach in the prosecution of marijuana has not changed. The U.S. attorney’s office focuses on large-scale drug traffickers, large-scale marijuana growers. The U.S. attorney’s office never intends to prosecute an individual user or an individual caregiver providing for an individual user.”
The letter of Walsh, which was written April in response to a query by the state attorney general, restrained that optimism. When coupled with the same warnings coming from U.S. attorneys in many other medical-marijuana states, it appears to signal renewed hardening of the DOJ’s line on medical marijuana.