A marijuana plant.
A marijuana plant. (Denver Post file photo)

 The Colorado U.S. Attorney sent letters to the owners of 25 medical-marijuana dispensaries — all located within 1,000 feet of a school — notifying them that they have 45 days to close or potentially face criminal prosecution.

The letters were sent by Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh to the owners of 25 dispensaries, located across the state, including Boulder.

The letters come a little over a week after Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett asked Walsh to drop the crackdown on dispensaries that are abiding by state law.

Walsh's spokesman, Jeff Dorschner, said the dispensaries in Boulder that are being sent the letters were on the list to receive them before Walsh received Garnett's request.

Dorschner declined to say how many dispensaries in Boulder will receive letters.

The are about a dozen medical pot dispensaries located within 1,000 feet of schools in Boulder, including the University of Colorado.

Garnett said he is not surprised the letters went out.

"A lot of people called me since his letter was released and found his letter to be, shall we say, condescending," Garnett said. "As if somehow the federal government needs to come in to protect our children. Boulder County cares an enormous amount about our kids and controlling medical marijuana to protect them."

Garnett says he understands the need to keep marijuana away from children.


"A lot of people who talked to me pointed out we all want to keep marijuana away from kids. That's not the issue. What they don't see is the causal connection between schools and a dispensary being 800, 600 or 500 feet away," he said. " It's an arbitrary distinction, and it seems like window dressing. It appears they are addressing a problem, but they don't have a causal effect."

If the stores do not stop selling and or distributing marijuana within 45 days, they could face criminal prosecution or asset forfeiture.

Colorado law specifies that dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, but also allows local governments to decrease that distance. Violating the 1,000-foot buffer is grounds for enhanced penalties under federal law.

"I think it is absolutely offensive that John Walsh is usurping and interfering with the power of the state on this issue," said Lauren Davis, a medical marijuana attorney in Denver. "These towns spent a lot of time considering these issues and writing the legislation they believe was reasonable and looking out for the safety of their community."

Dorschner said Walsh's intention is to protect young people.

"This is an initiative to protect children from a Schedule 1 narcotic," he said. "The U.S. attorney has heard from doctors, school administrators and parents thanking him for his efforts to protect children from marijuana."

The letters are the second round of action by federal authorities against businesses, which are legal under state law but are illegal under federal laws.

In January, letters were sent to the owners of 23 dispensaries near schools, telling the to move or close.

Dorschner said Friday's round of letters won't be the last.

Davis said the last round of letters scared some dispensary employees who decided to quit their jobs instead of face prosecution.

One of her clients shut down and another who was planning on moving anyway, went forward with their plans. This time, Davis doesn't think the medical marijuana industry will be as compliant.

"The medical marijuana attorneys, we discussed and came up with a game plan and did not take action the first time because people were scared to not move or shut down," she said, "but I can venture a guess that people are not going to sit as quietly."

Davis believes Walsh isn't being honest about closing down dispensaries for the sake of children.

"The feds have much better things to do with their resources," Davis said. "Taxpayers should be up in arms that the feds are using their power to override what Colorado citizens have said."

Felisa Cardona: fcardona@denverpost.com, 303-954-1219 or twitter.com/felisacardona

Mitchell Byars from the Boulder Daily Camera and Denver Post staff writer Jordan Steffen contributed to this story