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Jailed marijuana grower: 'I'm the poster boy now'

1:49 PM, Mar 22, 2010   |    comments
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"I'm the poster boy now," Chris Bartkowicz told 9Wants to Know Saturday in his first interview from jail.

DEA agents seized 16 boxes worth of marijuana from his Highlands Ranch house near C-470 and University Bouldevard on Friday afternoon. It was the same day a news story on his growing operation was set to air on 9NEWS.

"We work hard and aren't just people who want to smoke pot all the time," Bartkowicz said. "My intent was to show that growers care for houses. We construct well-made rooms for good growing environments."

"I figured I was in the right. I didn't figure I had anything to hide," he said. "If I am legal, why should I be in the shadows?"

Bartkowicz asked 9NEWS not to give his address in the story. The night before the story ran, a neighbor called to report she suspected someone was growing marijuana in the house where Bartkowicz lived, according to a federal official.

"If I knew what I was doing was illegal, I would have never made a public display of myself," he said. "I would not have put myself in the line of fire if I was knowingly violating the law."

The United States Attorney's office will review the evidence collected and could decide Tuesday if charges will be filed against Bartkowicz. He is also expected to make his first appearance in federal court on Tuesday.

"According to him and according to what he's seen on the news, he probably believes he is legal," Special Agent in Charge of Denver's DEA office Jeff Sweetin said.

Sweetin says even though state law allows for medical marijuana, federal law does not.

"We will continue to enforce federal law. That's what we are paid to do," Sweetin said.

He says federal guidelines give him discretion and his focus is on large operations such as the one he believes Bartkowicz ran.

"Discretion is: I can't send my DEA agents out on 10-plant grows. I'm not interested in that, it's not what we do. We work criminal organizations that are enterprises generating funds by distributing illegal substances," Sweetin said.

Bartkowicz said he did not know the number of marijuana plants seized by DEA agents, but video shot by 9NEWS shows dozens of plants in his basement. He also showed 9NEWS his medical marijuana license and documentation for the people to whom he provides marijuana.

"I hope to seek a resolution that conforms to state guidelines," Bartkowicz said.

Sweetin left open the door to go after medical marijuana dispensaries.

"The time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building and we arrest everybody. They're violating federal law; they're at risk of arrest and imprisonment," he said to 9NEWS' partners at The Denver Post in a separate interview. "Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law."

An October memo from Deputy U.S. Attorney General David Ogden said federal agents should not target people in "clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana," the Post reported. The memo led many in Colorado's medical-marijuana community to believe federal agents would no longer raid medical-marijuana dispensaries or growers.

Sweetin say the memo does nothing to change federal law, which makes marijuana illegal, and instead mostly addresses treatment of medical-marijuana patients and small-scale growers.

The Denver federal prosecutor's office confirmed it is interested in sizeable operations.

A spokesman for the office said he could not comment on Sweetin's remarks about dispensaries.

"The U.S. Attorney's office focuses its goal on prosecuting large-scale drug traffickers," said Jeff Dorschner, U.S. Attorney's office spokesman.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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