Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More from the U.S. Attorney's office on MMJ letters

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 5:26 PM

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We played phone tag with U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Jeff Dorschner for several days before talking with him again this afternoon. (See our previous story here, and a related conversation with County Commissioner Sallie Clark here.)

Again, the topic was U.S. Attorney John Walsh's recent decision to issue letters to 23 MMJ centers located within 1,000 feet of a school, telling them to close within 45 days or else. And this time, Dorschner was able to shed a little light.

A very, very little light.

Initially, I asked him whether the feds would ever expand their definition to include additional areas to buffer from, like playgrounds and schools.

"The short answer is that we continue to do analysis as we conduct this ongoing investigation. I can’t answer your specific question, or any hypothetical of, ‘Are we going to expand to this or that?’ It’s just a general policy that we avoid hypothetical questions," Dorschner said. "I can tell you that our focus is on protecting children from marijuana stores. And we have in the federal criminal code law that says, ‘You cannot dispense, cultivate or distribute marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school.’ So that’s our focus today, that’ll be our focus in 45 days, and when we are ready for Waves 2 and 3, that will continue to be our focus."

And why not go after, say, the 23 largest MMJ centers, like the previously issued Ogden and Cole memos say would be likely targets?

"I simply can’t answer that question because that goes into how we have conducted, and are in the process of conducting, our investigation," he said. "So the short answer is, I can’t answer that question because of the ongoing investigation."

Any estimate on the total number of centers statewide that will receive an order to close due to their proximity to schools?

"I cannot give you a rough estimate," Dorschner said. Because? "I think the short answer is, that number has not yet been determined."

OK. What about releasing a list of centers that have been sent a letter thus far?

"We are not releasing that," the spokesman said. "The reason is because this matter is a part of an ongoing investigation; it’s against Department of Justice policy to, essentially, 'out' the people that we’re investigating. It’s against our rules to say who we’re conducting an investigation against — and that is for their protection as well as to protect the integrity of the investigation. So I cannot give you a copy of that list."

We went on like that for a little bit. Like, I asked him if there was any truth to the theory that our stiff regulatory structure has offered us some protection from federal action.

"You know, I can’t answer that in any detail," he said. "What I can say is our primary focus is enforcing federal law. And there are a variety of factors that are important as we conduct our investigation, and those are internal factors we use as we exercise our discretion in these matters. But I can’t answer the specific question."

We then got back around to my central question: Why schools, and why now?

"The short answer is, [Walsh] is the U.S. Attorney," Dorschner said, adding a minute later: "After John took the helm as U.S. Attorney, one of the things that was important to him was to reach out to law enforcement. And he met with local, state and federal law enforcement, and I think that he heard, consistently, issues and concerns about these marijuana stores. ...

"But consistently, law enforcement — and I think that there have been educators that have communicated with that have similar concerns. So I just want to make sure that you understand that it’s not something he woke up one morning and said, ‘This is what I’m gonna do.’ This is something that he’s been exposed to over time, and the more that he heard about it, the more research he did about it, the more he realized that there was an appropriate action that he could take immediately to protect children."

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