Federal Department of Justice and drug policy officials met privately Wednesday with Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, local police and other community leaders as part of an apparent statewide, closed-door tour focusing on Colorado’s burgeoning legal marijuana industry.
The visits aimed to “find out what law enforcement and other regulatory agencies’ view is toward marijuana regulation in Colorado,” Suthers said. And it marked the second such day of meetings – setting off concern among marijuana advocates of federal interference from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a strident marijuana opponent.
On Monday, Department of Justice and White House Office of Drug Control and Policy officials met with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s staff, state marijuana regulators, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Suthers said.
A day later, they met in Suthers’ office for an hour, while also speaking with Colorado Springs police commanders and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s resident agent, he added. Suthers’ input centered around the “huge” black market that still exists across Colorado, and much of it concerned “sensitive case investigations” that cannot be discussed publicly, he said.
He added the federal officials were interested in the “nature and extent” of black market activity here.
Later, the federal officials spoke to local medical and education officials to learn about “the impacts of cannabis on our city,” a city spokeswoman said.
A full accounting of the visit was not released Wednesday, and requests for comment by The Gazette to both federal agencies were not returned.
Everyone in Colorado Springs known to have met with the federal officials has either expressed strong concern about legalized marijuana or opposition.
They included Dr. Kenneth Finn, who has given presentations to local elected officials on the medical dangers he sees in marijuana use.
Finn confirmed to The Gazette that he met with the federal officials, but declined to say what was discussed, saying, “I think it was somewhat confidential.”
The secretive nature of the meetings led to speculation and concern by a local marijuana advocate about greater federal involvement in local drug cases. And he voiced frustration that the meetings likely painted a one-sided picture of the state’s pot industry, at a time when marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
“It’s giving them the in to come after the industry – that’s the fear,” said Jason Warf, executive director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council.
His concern is rooted in President Donald Trump’s appointment of Sessions to lead the Department of Justice and his comments signaling a possible crackdown of recreational and medical marijuana in states that have legalized it.
The former Alabama senator and state attorney general has compared pot to heroin, and he convened a task force earlier this year on the links between marijuana and violent crimes, the New York Times reported. A report is due later this month.
Suthers, however, said the topic of increased cooperation between local police and federal authorities was never discussed.
The visit comes as attitudes toward legalized marijuana on the Colorado Springs City Council appear to be shifting, with a few members having expressed openness to allowing voters to decide on allowing recreational sales within city limits.
The topic has put them at odds with Suthers, who has repeatedly said that recreational marijuana sales have no place in a city whose economy relies heavily on military spending, and that brands itself as Olympic City USA.
Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman, Jacque Montgomery, said in a text that the governor did not attend the meeting.
The Gazette learned about the meetings from its news partner, KKTV 11 News.
Information from the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Gazette’s Conrad Swanson contributed to this report.
This story is developing and will be updated.