Recently the Feds have been cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries all over California. Now it looks like it is Colorado’s turn. U.S. Attorney John Walsh today announced he’s sent letters to 23 marijuana stores within 1,000 feet of Colorado schools, warning them they have 45 days to close up shop or face seizure and forfeiture of their property.
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.
U.S. Attorney’s spokesman Jeff Dorschner said he could not name the dispensaries that will be receiving letters because the matter is considered part of an ongoing investigation. He said the immediate goal of the letters is to clear dispensaries from areas near schools.
“Our interest is to have these stores moved away from schools,” Dorschner said. “… Our first step is protecting children who go to school near these marijuana stores.”
Asked how prosecutors would decide to deal with dispensaries that don’t close — whether their owners would face criminal prosecution or civil penalties — Dorschner said decisions would be made case-by-case.
The crackdown comes less than 10 days after the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a collective of marijuana activist groups and individuals including SAFER, Sensible Colorado, NORML and others gathered more than double the required signatures for an initiative to end marijuana prohibition in Colorado to appear on the 2012 state ballot.
The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 would make the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana legal for adults aged 21 and older. It establishes a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol is currently. The act also would allow for the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp.
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.