A Drug Enforcement Administration officer carries evidence from VIP Cannabis on Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)
The federal indictments against four men involved in the Colorado marijuana industry are “a shot across the bow” of all cannabis businesses that raise questions about the federal government’s tolerance for the industry, an attorney for one of the men said in court Monday.
Sean McAllister, the attorney for suspect Gerardo Uribe, said Uribe believed he was operating the VIP Cannabis dispensary and his other marijuana businesses lawfully under state law.
Uribe and three other men are accused of transferring money from Colombia to invest in a marijuana-cultivation warehouse and also of attempting to deposit proceeds from VIP Cannabis into a bank account. Uribe pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday, as his co-defendants have previously.
McAllister said it is not against state law to seek investment from outside of Colorado — the only requirement is that people with ownership interests be Colorado residents. And, he said, it is common for marijuana business owners to look for banks that will take their deposits — even though federal law makes banks reluctant to do so.
“If that’s the crime, then they’re all on the hook,” McAllister said, referring to the state’s hundreds of marijuana businesses. “This is a shot across the bow of the entire industry.”
Prosecutors contended that Uribe engaged in a pattern of deception and partnered with people who are ineligible to work in the Colorado marijuana industry to hide their involvement and conceal sources of money.
“The defendant absolutely knew he was not in clear and unambiguous compliance with the state,” prosecutor Brad Giles said.
During Monday’s hearing, Giles presented tax and immigration records that he said showed Uribe — who is from Colombia but living legally in the United States — has previously been dishonest in his dealings with the government.
But federal Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer questioned the conclusions Giles drew from the records.
At the end of the hearing, Shaffer allowed Uribe to be released — over prosecutors’ objections — on a $50,000 bond that includes a requirement for electronic monitoring.
All marijuana businesses are illegal under federal law, but the Justice Department has announced it will not make it a priority to prosecute those who are complying with state law and are not involved in other criminal activity. Though sources have previously said the raids that led to Uribe’s indictment were looking for ties to Colombian drug cartels, the charges don’t allege cartel connections or out-of-state marijuana sales.
State regulators have since ordered Uribe’s businesses closed, and McAllister said Uribe is working to either shutter or sell all his businesses.
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, [email protected] or twitter.com/john_ingold
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