Officers remove evidence from VIP Cannabis in Denver on Nov. 21, 2013. (Denver Post file)

Prosecutors say federal DOJ law doesn’t protect Colorado pot lawyer

Federal prosecutors say a Colorado attorney charged in connection with major raids on state-licensed medical marijuana businesses is not protected by a new law that tells the feds to back off.

Attorney David Furtado was one of four men charged after sweeping raids two years ago targeting the VIP Cannabis dispensary and related businesses. The men were ultimately indicted on charges of money laundering and trying to deposit money from an illegal enterprise into a bank account.

Last month, Furtado raised a novel legal argument: That a federal budget amendment passed last year means the U.S. Justice Department is prohibited from spending money on prosecutions like his. He asked the judge to throw out the case against him.

In a response filed late last week, federal prosecutors say the budget amendment doesn’t block their case against Furtado and his co-defendants because what the men are accused of doing was illegal under both federal and state law.

“[T]he government’s prosecution of Furtado does not prevent, but indeed furthers, Colorado’s implementation of its medical marijuana laws,” the prosecution’s response states.

This is unmapped terrain for marijuana law in Colorado, and it is unclear how U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn will decide which side is correct.

Even state-licensed marijuana businesses are illegal under federal law. But, last year, Congress passed a budget amendment that blocks the Department of Justice from spending money on activities that would prevent states from “implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Earlier this year, a federal judge in California ruled that amendment prohibited the feds from going forward with a civil asset forfeiture case against a medical marijuana dispensary that was abiding by California law. Furtado argued the same reasoning should protect him from prosecution.

In their response, prosecutors first argue that the judge in California got it wrong and that the budget amendment only applies when the Justice Department tries to take action directly against the states. They then argue that the amendment doesn’t apply in Furtado’s case because he and his co-defendants are accused of doing things that “circumvented the Colorado state medical marijuana regulatory system by disguising the true ownership of, and funding sources for, the organization.”

Furtado, brothers Luis and Gerardo Uribe, and Colombian citizen Hector Diaz were indicted on allegations that they funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from Colombia, moved it through various bank accounts and then tried to use it to buy a warehouse for marijuana growing. The state later moved to shut down VIP Cannabis and related dispensaries.

Diaz has already pleaded guilty , and Luis Uribe this month filed a notice that indicates he has reached a plea agreement, as well.

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, or @johningold

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