Judge rules Colorado’s medical marijuana law is no defense for federal drug charges

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Judge: State pot law no defense in federal case

DENVER — A pot grower won’t be allowed to use Colorado’s medical marijuana law to fend off federal drug charges.

The decision Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Philip A. Brimmer means that Christopher Bartkowicz (BART-ko-wits) faces a possible life sentence on federal marijuana cultivation charges.

Brimmer said that suggestions by the White House that the U.S. government wouldn’t pursue pot cases in states that allow medical marijuana cannot be used as a defense on federal drug charges.

Bartkowicz’s suburban Denver home was raided by federal agents in February after he showed off his basement pot business to a television news reporter.

The judge also rejected Bartkowicz’s arguments that he was singled out unfairly because he talked to a reporter.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

DENVER (AP) — A suburban pot grower who wants to use Colorado’s medical marijuana law to fend off federal drug charges lost a round Wednesday in a court battle that began after a TV reporter did a story on his basement cultivation operation.

U.S. District Judge Philip A. Brimmer rejected Christopher Bartkowicz’s argument that he was growing new types of marijuana with medicinal value that were wrongly included on a federal list of illegal drugs.

“The new strains of marijuana have a therapeutic effect,” Bartkowicz’s lawyer Joseph Saint-Veltri said.

Brimmer, however, sided with federal prosecutors who said a judge can’t decide to exempt some kinds of marijuana from the federal designation.

“That line of inquiry may be academic, and it may be interesting, but it has no place in a federal courtroom,” Assistant U.S. Attorney M.J. Menendez argued.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided Bartkowicz’ house on Feb. 12 after he showed a KUSA-TV reporter the growing operation in his home in the Highlands Ranch development south of Denver.

Bartkowicz took the stand Wednesday to make his argument that he had followed Colorado state medical marijuana rules and didn’t think he would be subject to federal prosecution.

His criminal trial on federal cultivation charges is scheduled for Nov. 1. The hearing Wednesday involved his fight to use Colorado pot rules as part of his defense.

Brimmer had yet to rule on that motion.

On the stand, Bartkowicz described himself as a naive grower who agreed to meet with the TV reporter because he thought it would be good for the medical marijuana industry to show the public how it works.

“I felt I was following state law,” Bartkowicz said. “I felt no fear in doing a public interview.”

His home was raided after promotions for the story aired on KUSA. Agents reviewed some copies of medical marijuana patient cards that named Bartkowicz as their caregiver and concluded he did not have enough cards to justify the amount of marijuana he was growing.

Bartkowicz contended in court that he shouldn’t be prosecuted because officials in the administration of President Obama have said federal resources wouldn’t be spent investigating pot cases when state law allows medical marijuana use.

Menendez challenged Bartkowicz, pointing out a memo from a Department of Justice official that called federal drug prosecution “unlikely” but not impossible in such cases.

Bartkowicz has said federal agents miscounted the number of marijuana plants in his house and that he later located additional patient cards.

Brimmer refused Bartkowicz’s attempts to subpoena the KUSA-TV reporter who did the story.

The judge also rejected a Bartkowicz attempt to call as a witness the state’s senior director for medical marijuana enforcement to ask about state discussions with the DEA about pot enforcement.

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