Legal Questions Raised In Pot Debate

It was a federal blitzkrieg of sorts. In less than a week, three officials from the Washington D.C.-based Office for National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) traveled to Colorado and publicly spoke out against Amendment 44, a measure that seeks to legalize possession of an ounce of marijuana for adults.

At the Regional Meth Conference held in Grand Junction as few weeks ago, ONDCP Deputy Director Scott Burns joined Attorney General John Suthers in a news conference at the Double Tree Hotel opposing the amendment.

But questions linger over who actually bankrolled the press conference. Are the feds spending money to oppose the measure? And if not, who is and is it legal?A Denver Post article that covered the affair quotes ONDCP staffer Heather Janik saying that the government entity paid $50 to rent a room for the press event:

Heather Janik, a staff member with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that the federal office paid $50 to rent the room for the news conference and that Burns’ travel to Grand Junction from Washington, D.C., was covered by his appearance at a conference to discuss methamphetamine abuse.

This was after concerns were raised by proponents over state employees spending money to campaign against the issue. By law, government employees cannot spend over $50 to express their positions on a ballot issue. The restriction does not apply to federal agencies however, leading to confusion over why the ONDCP disclosed the exact $50 amount.

Even more perplexing is the fact that the money that the ONDCP claims to have paid for the room doesn’t exactly match the Double Tree Hotel’s room rates.

According to Denise Hebrard, a catering manager at the hotel, the daily charge for a meeting room like the one used in the press conference is $275, although it can sometimes be prorated. Hebrard also said she believed that the charges for the room rental were billed to the Mesa County Meth Task Force, not the federal drug office.

The Mesa Meth Task Force also sponsored the Regional Meth Conference, and if the group did pay for the Anti-44 press event even more questions are raised about the legality of such an action.

On OCT. 17, SAFER Colorado, the organization spearheading the Amendment 44 campaign, filed an open records request to the Mesa Meth Task Force, seeking to know if the group did finance the press conference.

Yesterday, the Mesa County Attorney’s office responded and reportedly told the SAFER campaign that the taskforce had no records and was not a government entity. 

According to Angie Palmer, the coordinator of the Mesa Task Force, the group’s finances are managed by a nonprofit corporation called Mesa County Partners. Palmer also confirmed that the taskforce is not a government agency, although it does receive money from the government, as well as from nonprofits and businesses.

Government employees like the GOP’s Lt. Governor candidate Janet Rowland also belong to the Task Force. According to the organization’s site, they were commissioned by Mesa County Board of Commissioners and their meetings are at the Grand Junction City Hall. Currently, there are no Secretary of State records specifically for the group.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at

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