Denver-Area Pot Grower Agrees To 5 Years In Prison

Christopher BartkowiczDENVER-A suburban Denver pot grower who tried unsuccessfully to set up a federal-state showdown on medical marijuana agreed to a five-year prison term Thursday and was handcuffed in court after pleading guilty on federal drug charges.

Christopher Bartkowicz, 37, pleaded guilty to three drug charges, including cultivation, after federal drug agents raided his Highlands Ranch home in February and seized hundreds of pot plants growing in his basement.

The raid by the Drug Enforcement Administration came after a Denver TV station promoted a story in which Bartkowicz bragged about how much money he would make growing pot under Colorado medical marijuana rules.

Bartkowicz was originally scheduled to plead guilty in April. But he changed his mind on a plea deal and decided to pursue a defense that was based on recent signals from the White House not to pursue federal marijuana cases in states that allow medical marijuana.

Federal prosecutors sought to block Bartkowicz’s argument. U.S. District Judge Philip A. Brimmer last month sided with the government, ruling that Justice Department memos about drug prosecutions aren’t legal clearance to violate federal drug laws.

After Bartkowicz was blocked from using Colorado’s marijuana law in his defense, as well as barred from bringing up the possible medicinal value of marijuana, he pleaded guilty.

Under Thursday’s plea deal, which isn’t final until Brimmer approves it Jan. 28, Bartkowicz will serve five years in prison on three charges — cultivation, intent to distribute and having pot near a public elementary school. If he had gone to trial, Bartkowicz could have faced a life term because of a previous drug conviction.

Read the rest of this Associated Press Story with a contributions from Writer Lisa Leff in San Francisco at NPR