Jeff Sweetin, the DEA special agent in charge in Denver, probably wishes he had just kept his mouth shut. It was bad enough that the University of Colorado newspaper the Daily Camera reported Sunday that one of his special agents had sent out an e-mail on a Department of Justice account seeking a campaign manager for “Colorado’s Marijuana Information Committee,” an apparent astroturf organization being set up to defeat the Colorado marijuana legalization initiative. That initiative would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults.
But then Sweetin really stepped in it, telling the Daily Camera that the law "allows his agency to get involved in the process to tell voters why they shouldn’t decriminalize pot" and that the committee had raised $10,000 from "private donations, including some from agents' own accounts."
That was enough to draw out the initiative's sponsor, SAFER Colorado, which criticized the agency for unwarranted interference in a state electoral matter. "Taxpayer money should not be going toward the executive branch advocating one side or another," the group's executive director, Steve Fox, told the Daily Camera. "It's a wholly inappropriate use of taxpayer money."
But SAFER Colorado wasn’t alone in taking offense at the untoward DEA actions. The state's two largest and most influential newspapers, the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post, both condemned the move in editorials. The News' position was clear from its headline: "DEA Should Keep Out of State Politics."
The Post took a more concerned approach, worrying that the DEA politicking might pass the bounds of propriety, if not legality. "Providing facts to people who want them is one thing," the Post wrote. "Using the agency as a platform to influence elections is another. Sweetin says he clearly understands the difference. We certainly hope that's the case."
If Sweetin hoped the story would just go away, he didn’t help matters any when he further clouded the waters when KMGH-TV in Denver Tuesday reported that: "Sweetin said, despite reports to the contrary, his office is not campaigning against it or fundraising. When asked about the committee and the $10,000 mentioned in the E-mail, Sweetin said, 'There is no $10,000 in money that I've ever heard of.'"
That led SAFER Colorado to raise a whole series of questions about which version of the DEA activism was true, which they kindly sent to Colorado media. "We think it's really fishy that the same DEA agent who made it clear the committee had funds from private donors and agents is now saying he's never heard of this money," said campaign coordinator Mason Tvert. "We think DEA thought they could actively campaign against us, but then got told by some sort of legal counsel it couldn’t happen that way. In any case, we're just trying to spin this into the biggest story we can," he told Drug War Chronicle.