On Nov. 21, federal agents raided more than a dozen medical marijuana facilities and two homes in Denver, Commerce City and Boulder county. In some cases, they just piled plants on the sidewalk. Store operators watched as the marijuana, cash, electronically stored information and financial records were confiscated. Patients drove off empty-handed.
When the smoke cleared, the raid easily qualified as the most extensive since Colorado approved medical marijuana in 2000.
Among the shops raided was Swiss Medical in Boulder. James Wollrab, the store owner's attorney, said in an interview with the Denver Post that more than $1 million in plants were seized from his client: "They didn't leave any instructions, saying don't replant. There was no court order of cease and desist. No explanation."
Jeff Dorschner, Denver spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, says in a statement that the orchestrated effort between the Drug Enforcement Agency, IRS criminal investigations unit and Denver police was a response to more than one of the marijuana regulation guidelines issued by the feds being broken or ignored.
"While the investigation is ongoing," he said, "there are strong indications that more than one of the eight federal prosecution priorities identified in the Department of Justice's August guidance memo are potentially implicated."
Three sources, asking to remain anonymous, told the Post that the stores and homes raided are under investigation for ties to Colombian drug cartels.
Mark Slaugh, Southern Colorado regional coordinator at Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, tells the Indy that the raids initially shocked him.
"There was a lot of confusion at first," he says. "Once it became clear they were investigating criminal activity, I think it shows that the DOJ will do exactly what they said they would do."
That in mind, Slaugh stresses compliance: "Make sure you and your staff know the regulations. If they fall outside of them, then they should receive what's due."
On the same day as the raid, nearly 40 miles west, a Central City MMJ center named Annie's became the first in the state to receive its local recreational retail license, according to a post on its Facebook page.
The Marijuana Enforcement Division has accepted more than 130 applications thus far. An additional 400 MMJ dispensaries across the state are eligible to apply.
"Colorado is moving forward and leaving marijuana prohibition behind," Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement announcing the retail license. "For the first time in history, those who sell marijuana are receiving licenses from the state instead of rap sheets."