Attorney General visits Glenwood to talk about drugs, gas and DNA
October 11, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Colorado’s top law enforcement officer, Republican John Suthers, likes to talk about drugs.
In fact, during a campaign stop in Glenwood Springs this week, Suthers put methamphetamines and medical marijuana at the top of his list of topics when talking with a reporter.
But he also described a broader range of measures and cases his office has been involved in under his tenure.
Suthers, a moderate with six years in office behind him, is running for a second full term against attorney Dan Slater of Canon City, vice chair of the state Democratic Party.
The two will be facing off in the November general election.
In an interview at the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Suthers said he is the attorney for the state, overseeing an office of 240 attorneys, a job he has had since being appointed in 2005 by former Gov. Bill Owens.
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According to the official website, “The Attorney General has primary authority for enforcement of consumer protection and antitrust laws, prosecution of criminal appeals and some complex white-collar crimes, the Statewide Grand Jury, training and certification of peace officers, and certain natural resource and environmental matters.”
He represents state agencies such as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees oil and gas drilling in the state.
Suthers said he sent a team of attorneys to help draft new regulations governing how the agency deals with the industry, but did not seem happy with the results.
“I think their timing was very bad,” Suthers said of the commission regulations, which gained final approval in 2008 and were implemented this year.
The stricter rules, he said, came into effect at a time of “industry retrenchment because of the recession,” and might effectively drive the industry out of the state.
“Ultimately, what they look at is the regulatory environment,” he said of oil and gas companies, adding that Colorado’s new rules are too strict.
He also said his office works on investigation of alleged violations of state laws brought by citizens to the commission, which have lead to fines against companies in some instances.
But, he stressed, his office will not act on complaints that the commission itself feels are groundless.
“I am in no way … an appellate remedy” for citizens unhappy with the commission’s decisions or actions, he said.
Regarding his office’s work in drug law enforcement, Suthers said that the recent surge in medical marijuana dispensaries around the state is “what we predicted in 2000,” after the voters legalized the medicinal use of marijuana.
It was the Obama administration’s decision to adopt a “hands-off” posture regarding medical marijuana use, Suthers said, that prompted the current rush in the field, which has included the establishment of nearly a dozen dispensaries in the Roaring Fork Valley region, including four in Aspen.
According to Suthers, the current state of affairs regarding use, or abuse of the law is in “kind of a limbo land,” where patients can have multiple “caregivers” that they rely on for their pot, and each of those “caregivers” can claim that patient as a legitimate, legal customer.
“I think … it is being highly abused,” Suthers said of the law. He said the state is recording 400 applications per month for medical marijuana permits, and that the average age of applicants is falling, with most “citing chronic pain as their debilitation condition” that qualifies them as legitimate patients.
“I suspect that’s not what the people had in mind” when they approved medical marijuana, and he is working with legislators and law enforcement officials to come up with ways to rein in the surge in medical marijuana use.
He said he has been told by police officials that “they’re seeing upticks in violence … home invasions, robberies,” committed by people desperate to get money for medical marijuana.
“They’re very concerned about it,” he said, adding that he plans to take those concerns to a meeting of U.S. attorneys and attorneys general that he will attend this year.
Concerning methamphetamines, Suthers said, “The interesting thing about meth is, it’s disproportionately rural … and it’s disproportionately female.” He said 65 percent of cases involve people living outside a metro area, and half of all cases involve women.
Using foundation funds, he said his office has started a $3.5 million campaign using “edgy and aggressive” ads to convince viewers that meth use is a bad idea. The campaign is being monitored for its effectiveness, he said, before further money is allocated to future years.
On another front, Suthers said, he and the Denver district attorney are using a $1.3 million federal grant known as a “DNA exoneration grant,” to comb through court records for questionable convictions in which new DNA techniques might free someone who was wrongly convicted.
Suthers lauded Colorado’s new “Katie’s Law,” named for a New Mexico woman raped and killed in 2003, which requires that anyone arrested on felony charges must supply the courts with a DNA sample. If freed or found innocent, the subject can request that the sample be destroyed.
But Suthers maintained that the DNA samples can be used to eliminate suspects as easily as to catch criminals.
“We need to emphasize the fact that its a tool not only to incriminate the guilty, but to exonerate the innocent,” he said.
Concerning white collar crime, Suthers said, his office has charged and convicted people for Ponzi schemes, fraud and identity theft.
Among them, he said, was the guilty plea of Timothy Kuskowsky, who admitted to identity theft and check fraud in a multi-county crime spree, and who was sentenced to 14 years in prison earlier this month.
Suthers also has won a reputation for prosecuting what are known as “sexual Internet predators,” and for drafting laws to make it a crime to commit “Internet luring” – web communications with sexual overtones with minors under the age of 16 – and “Internet sexual exploitation” – exposure or solicitation over the Internet.