A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent did not send an e-mail requesting assistance to defeat a Colorado ballot initiative, says a Denver agency spokesman. Instead, it was all part of an elaborate mix up, first reported in the Boulder Daily Camera last Sunday, and then picked up by national outlets like the Associated Press.
But proponents of a ballot initiative to make an ounce of marijuana legal in the state are still skeptical about the government’s claims, saying that federal interference is not uncommon when it comes to drug reform.
In this case, the devil seems to be in the details. Details that involve the DEA and a private citizen the agency will not name, due to confidentiality reasons.The E-Mail
It all started last Sunday, when Ryan Morgan, a staff writer for the Boulder Daily Camera, reported that a DEA agent had authored an e-mail seeking a campaign manager to help defeat the marijuana initiative.
In the letter, an agent name Michael Moore appears to mention an organization called “Colorado’s Marijuana Information Committee,” and says that $10,000 is available to launch a campaign. The note also included Moore’s cell and work number, along with a Department of Justice e-mail address.
In the now infamous Camera article, a DEA spokesman named Jeff Sweetin was quoted saying that the $10,000 came from private donations:
“My mantra has been, ‘If Americans use the democratic process to make change, we’re in favor of that,'” he said. “We’re in favor of the democratic process. But as a caveat, we’re in favor of it working based on all the facts.”
Sweetin said the $10,000 the committee has to spend came from private donations, including some from agents’ own accounts. He said the DEA isn’t trying to “protect Coloradans from themselves” but that the agency is the expert when it comes to drugs.
Then the trouble started.
Days later, Sweetin was quoted by Denver’s Channel 7, claiming that he did not recall the $10,000:
“We don’t have $10,000 in money. There may be organizations that are raising money,” said Sweetin. “There is no $10,000 in money that I’ve ever heard of.”
These comments might seem contradictory, but it gets stranger. Now the DEA is saying that an agent didn’t even send the e-mail, and the agency denies any involvement in a campaign.
The Mix Up?
“Last week, I called Moore’s cell phone number and left a message. I told him I wanted to ask about a campaign email he’d sent out looking for help fighting the marijuana legalization measure,” said Ryan Morgan, author of the originating Camera article.
According to Morgan, later that day he was contacted by a DEA Public Information Officer (PIO), who set up an interview with Sweetin.
“At no time did Sweetin, the PIO or Moore ever say he didn’t send the email,” Morgan recalls.
In fact, Morgan only found out yesterday that the e-mail might not have originated from Agent Moore, after talking with a DEA officer.
“[The PIO] basically says Sweetin doesn’t oversee Moore’s day-to-day activities, so he didn’t know if Moore had sent it or not. In responding to my questions, he assumed that Moore had. Later, they found out he hadn’t,” said Morgan, after talking with a DEA officer again today.
But if the DEA didn’t send the message, who did? The agency isn’t saying.
Who Sent It?
The e-mail was sent by a member of a group called Guarding Our Children Against Marijuana (GOCAM), according to Suzanne Halonen, a spokesperson for the DEA in Denver.
“What she did was put Michael Moore as a person to contact, and he didn’t even know it,” said Halonen when talking about the GOCAM sender. “[Moore] is a DEA agent, but he’s also dedicated solely as the only agent to do community awareness and public education about drugs.”
For confidentiality reasons, Halonen did not release the sender’s name. She also contends that Moore is merely an educational resource for GOCAM, as he is for anyone else in the community.
“The Hatch Act really keeps people from the executive branch from participating in partisan politics,” Halonen said. “This isn’t a partisan issue so we’re definitely well within or rights if we wanted to be proactive, but we’re really not.”
Halonen didn’t know about the “Colorado’s Marijuana Information Committee” named in the e-mail, an organization, if existing, is not registered with the Secretary of State’s office.
Mason Tvert is not convinced however, citing Sweetin’s faulty memory regarding the $10,000, and the unregistered committee mentioned in the letter.
Tvert is a spokesman for Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), the group that put the drug reforms on the state ballot this year.
“Clearly the DEA is back-peddling on this, and they’ve done something wrong,” Tvert said. “They’re against us because their livelihood depends on marijuana being illegal.”
SAFER maintains that the DEA cannot be involved in non-partisan campaigns because it would compromise the agency’s neutrality, which the group says is against the law.