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Thu April 5, 2012
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Excerpt: Pot Inc.

Read an excerpt from Pot, Inc. which chronicles Greg's journey into DIY ganjapreneurialism...

288 pages, Sterling, List Price: $15.45 | purchase

“Living the Dream”

“The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.”

—Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden, Fight Club, 1999

When Jeff Sweetin, the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Denver field office, first heard of Chris Bartkowicz on February 12, 2010, he thought Bartkowicz was nuts.

It was early on a cold, bright Friday in Colorado when Sweetin’s assistant, Kevin Merrill, stepped into Sweetin’s office and suggested he check out the Web site for the local NBC affiliate, 9News. The night before, Merrill had been watching TV when 9News teased a story scheduled to air Friday night, about a man who was extremely proud of his massive clandestine marijuana growing operation. The promo clip was online and, sure enough, there was this pretty jovial guy, Bartkowicz, confiding to the world that none of his suburban neighbors had any idea of the miniature rainforest of marijuana he was cultivating in his two-thousand-square-foot basement. He showed off for the cameras hundreds of pot plants growing under bright lights and estimated that the crop would yield him in the neighborhood of $400,000.

You didn’t need to be a DEA agent to know that Bartkowicz was violating every rule of common sense that applied to people breaking state and federal drug laws, a set of “keep a low profile” reminders that, if they didn’t come to you naturally, are printed on the first pages of nearly every marijuana gardening book ever written.

Jorge Cervantes’s popular Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower’s Bible bears this admonishment: “Successful indoor growers are good citizens and keep a low profile. They keep their yard and home clean and in excellent repair. They always drive a street-legal car and there are no outstanding warrants on the drivers. . . . Smart growers pay bills on time, are nice to neighbors, and do not throw noisy, wild, crazy parties. . . . The cardinal rule of growing is: Never tell anybody about any garden.”

Cervantes surely didn’t think it necessary to add, “And don’t go on the local television news with your real name spelled out in big letters under your un-obscured face, wearing a ‘Got Weed’ T-shirt bragging about how no one knows what you’re doing and that you hope to clear nearly a half million dollars with your crop of illegal drugs.” But maybe he should have.

“Definitely, I’m living the dream now,” Bartkowicz chuckled to the reporter, who himself was probably dreaming of the big ratings Bartkowicz’s unusual candor would deliver.

“My first thought was, ‘This guy’s crazy,’” said Sweetin, a twenty-three-year veteran of the DEA whose whole career has been dedicated to busting drug dealers, a pursuit that usually involved more legwork than watching the nightly news. “He’s giving me and everyone else his real name and neighborhood.”

A quick search of public records databases showed that not only did Bartkowicz indeed live at 2006 Glenhaven Drive in Highlands Ranch, a quiet and well-to-do community of trophy homes southwest of downtown Denver, but that his house was within a few dozen yards of an elementary school, an automatic sentence enhancement to the felonies Bartkowicz admitted committing on TV.

“The best information I have ever gotten as a DEA agent came from [that] news station,” Sweetin recalled in 2011, still sounding somewhat amazed more than a year later. All that was left to do that day was send some agents to be sure the report wasn’t some sort of weird hoax.

The DEA’s visit that afternoon was less of a raid than is typical in such a situation, but so too was the way in which Bartkowicz came to the feds’ attention. Just as there were no undercover drug buys or paid snitches, there were also no battering rams or SWAT cops with rifles at the ready. Instead, fewer than a dozen DEA agents and police officers with the South Metro Drug Task Force approached Bartkowicz as he was leaving his palatial house and asked permission to look inside. Bartkowicz agreed, and before the original story could air that night, 9News had another one to report—Bartkowicz was arrested and charged with enough federal drug crimes to add up to a maximum possible sentence of forty years in prison, a $2 million fine, and the forfeiture of his $637,000 house. His crop of 244 marijuana plants were chopped down by federal agents, dragged out to the driveway, and hauled off in sixteen large moving boxes. He went from living the dream one minute to living every pot grower’s nightmare the next.

No one seemed surprised at the outcome except Bartkowicz, who, even in handcuffs and on his way to lockup, argued that he’d done nothing wrong.

“He actually was very vocal about that when he arrived at the jail,” Sweetin said. “This is a guy who didn’t fully get what he’d done.”

Bartkowicz was not the only marijuana cultivator in Colorado feeling cocky at the time, although he is the only one who thought it safe to document his activities on the evening news. He was one of the thousands of Coloradans enrolled in the state’s decade-old medical marijuana program, which makes it legal—under state law, at least—for qualifying patients to grow, use, and possess as many as six cannabis plants and up to two ounces of manicured pot. The law also allows patients to assign their plant-growing privileges to someone with a green thumb, which is how Bartkowicz explained the presence of forty times the allowable number of plants in his basement—he said he was growing them for himself (a car accident in the 1990s left him with an injured back that qualified him for pot therapy) and other patients who’d enrolled in the program. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to produce all the paperwork listing all the patients he was growing for when he was arrested.

Not that it would have mattered.

“This would have risen to our attention based on what we saw with or without medical marijuana,” Sweetin said. “This was what we would consider to be a significant indoor grow for a suburban location.”

From Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America's Most Outlaw Industry by Greg Campbell. Copyright © 2012. Excerpted with permission of Sterling Publishing.