A Colorado Springs man facing felony marijuana-distribution charges for running a pot-for-donations service says police signaled the service was legal at the same time they were conducting undercover stings on it.
Pritchard Garrett, who is accused of being the leader of Billygoatgreen MMJ, says the service took off after Colorado Springs Police Lt. Mark Comte gave an interview to the Colorado Springs Independent in which he said delivering pot in exchange for donations was not necessarily illegal under Colorado's new laws for marijuana.
Comte's comments appeared in the Independent on Jan. 30. The previous day, two undercover Colorado Springs detectives organized a marijuana purchase from Billygoatgreen as part of an investigation into the service, according to arrest affidavits in the case.
"You just green-lighted this delivery business," Garrett said of Comte's comments. "You just said, 'Hey, the cops said this wasn't illegal, so call them up.' "
Comte, though, defended his comments and accused Garrett of distributing more marijuana than Comte had suggested it might be legal to do.
"His intent was clearly to skirt Amendment 64," Comte said, referencing the law that made limited marijuana possession legal in Colorado.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Colorado's attorney general says her boss has concluded that marijuana-for-donation exchanges aren't legal under any circumstances.
"Distributing marijuana in exchange for suggested donations is a scam to get around the laws against the sale of marijuana," spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler said, summing up Attorney General John Suthers' position.
It further complicates one of the stickiest questions facing the state in the immediate aftermath of marijuana legalization: When is an exchange a sale?
Amendment 64 allows people over age 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to give up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult "without remuneration" — in other words, without payment. Sales of marijuana will eventually be legal but not until retail marijuana stores open late this year or early next year. Even then, the only people who can sell marijuana must have a marijuana business license from the state.
In an interview, Garrett said Billygoatgreen sought to fill the current retail hole by offering to give people free marijuana and then soliciting a donation for expenses.
"I really thought we were doing something that we could be proud of, something that would provide for our family," Garrett said.
Comte told the Independent in January that Colorado law is unclear about such exchanges.
"If I show up at your house with less than an ounce of marijuana, I'm 21, you're 21, and I say, 'Hey, dude, it cost me 50 bucks in gas to get over here,' and you give me 50 bucks for my gas, there's nothing illegal," Comte told the newspaper.
In an interview with The Denver Post, Comte stood by his statements.
"Amendment 64 left a lot of loopholes in current, existing laws," he said.
But he contended Billygoatgreen was operating outside those loopholes. According to arrest affidavits, a Billygoatgreen delivery man gave detectives about 1.6 ounces during one undercover buy and about 2.1 ounces during a second buy. The affidavits say specific prices were also agreed upon for the marijuana.
Garrett and two others connected with Billygoatgreen — Shilo Campbell and Matthew Alther — were arrested Feb. 5. They face felony marijuana-distribution charges. Because of a previous criminal history in Maryland that included prison time, Garrett said he could be looking at life behind bars.
"I'm scared," he said. "I'm not going to lie."