Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Criminals to be weeded out of medical marijuana centers

written by: Jeffrey Wolf  Deborah Sherman
21 mins ago

DENVER - More than half of the medical marijuana
center owners in Colorado have criminal arrest or
conviction records for crimes like dealing drugs,
sexual assaults, burglaries and weapons, according
to statistics by the Drug Enforcement Agency
obtained by 9Wants to Know, but that will all change
on Sunday.
- Broomfield bans marijuana centers

The DEA says 18 percent of medical marijuana
center owners have been convicted of felonies.

"This business seems to have an inappropriate
number of people with criminal backgrounds
involved as business owners," Kevin Merrill,
assistant special agent in charge for the Denver field
division of the DEA, said. "I would be hard-pressed
to find any other business group where their
members have so many criminal violations, arrests
and convictions."

DEA statistics show while 8 percent of Colorado's
adult population has been arrested for drug crimes,
28 percent of the medical marijuana center owners
have drug histories.

The charges include 77 cases of assault, 22
burglaries, 34 cases of domestic violence, 11 rapes,
29 weapons charges and four arrests for murder,
attempted murder and/or involvement in a

Those felons will be weeded out of the medical
marijuana business this weekend when new rules
take effect Sunday that prohibit anyone with a drug
felony conviction or anyone with a felony sentence
within the last five years from obtaining a medical
marijuana center license in Colorado.

Businesses that sell medical marijuana have been
commonly referred to as dispensaries, but the state
now official calls them centers.

Matt Obrochta, owner of Burnzwell Medical
Marijuana Center on Broadway in Denver, is now
scrambling to figure out what to do since he
received a five-year suspended sentence for
possessing pot, a felony, in 1998.

Obrochta did not want to comment on his old
conviction, but a representative of the medical
marijuana industry agreed to speak on behalf of
owners with criminal histories.

"They don't think it's fair," Sensible Colorado
Executive Director Brian Vicente said. "A lot of
people have been convicted of felonies or any crime
and they have done their time, they've paid their
debt to society and now want to move on and work
in this field and aren't able to do so."

Vicente believes someone with a criminal record for
marijuana may be best suited to work in the industry
because it shows they have experience working with
the drug.

"Many of those people the DEA arrested themselves
for growing marijuana legally under Colorado law,
so I don't think they're a credible source for
providing information about folks who are following
state law," Vicente said.

The DEA used public records, advertisements and
property records to collect the names of the owners
of medical marijuana centers. Then agents ran
criminal background checks to gather the data.

"The DEA investigates all drug crimes and marijuana

is still a schedule one and our job is to know who
we are dealing with because we may come into
contact with them at some time," Merrill said.

The state expects the new rules about felons along
with high licensing fees and in-state residency
requirements will reduce the number of medical
marijuana centers in the state by about 50 percent.

There are currently 1,100 medical marijuana centers
operating in Colorado, according to the Department
of Revenue.

DOR Senior Director Matt Cook is leading a team of
investigators for the Medical Marijuana Enforcement
Division that will be conducting an "exhaustive"
check of arrest records, business associations and
tax returns for anyone who applies for a medical
marijuana license.

"Anybody who has a prohibited conviction will not
be eligible to hold a license," Cook said. "They want
to make sure that the public has confidence in the
people that they're doing business with and that it's
not a drug cartel selling tainted medicine to them
they could harm them when they ingest it."

One of Cook's biggest concerns with the new
requirements is that some owners with criminal
backgrounds or drug cartels may try to hide their
ownership in a medical marijuana center.

"Those persons typically that would not qualify to
hold a license often times try and find somebody
else to front the business for them. They will fund
them through very elaborate lending schemes and
reap the benefits of the business," Cook said.

"It potentially may just push the true owners under
the carpet behind the closed door and make it even
more difficult for investigators to determine who
truly owns this," Merrill said.

The most abundant supply of marijuana is Mexican-
grown and is brought into and through Colorado by
poly-drug trafficking organizations, according to
the Office of National Drug Control Policy data in
June 2008.

In March, Erie Police arrested two suspected drug
runners on charges that they moved 64 pounds of
marijuana between Colorado and California
involving dispensaries.  One suspect, Max
Hernandez, owned the Denver dispensary
Colorado Compassionate Caregivers', according to Colorado
Secretary of State Records.

Hernandez and Bryan Mark Manard have been
charged in Weld County with possession of
marijuana and intent to distribute, both felonies.

Anyone who lies on their Colorado medical
marijuana center application will be arrested and
charged for filing a false instrument, Cook said.

The state application is 22 pages long and asks for
bank account numbers, education and marital

"I don't even know what my high school diploma has
to do with providing medicine to patients, but
apparently it's one of the requirements," Carl
Wemhoff, president of Herbal Remedies Inc. in
Westminster, said.

Wemhoff says the application is so long and
complicated he has taken some of his employees off
of other projects to get it done.

"We've got a four-man team working day and night
for three weeks to get this done. It's that involved,"
Wemhoff said.

Wemhoff, who does not have a criminal history,
hopes to benefit from the new regulations by buying
up a couple of medical marijuana centers that will
be forced to shut down. In addition to no prior felony drug convictions,
there are several other automatic disqualifiers for
holding a license: if you haven't paid student loans
or are in arrears for your taxes or child support.

The state says any dispensary caught operating
without having applied for a state license as of Aug.
1 will be prevented from ever holding a Colorado

Even though the change is coming over a weekend,
the Department of Revenue will be open on Saturday
and Sunday to accept and start processing business

The first license will be issued on July 1, 2011. Until
then, medical marijuana centers are allowed to
operate with their application paperwork.

If you have any news tips, please e-mail 9Wants to
Know Investigator Deborah Sherman at Deborah.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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