Feds Execute 26 Search Warrants on Medical Marijuana Providers in 13 Montana Cities
Advocates decry raids, say they were intended to skirt democratic process and undermine state law
HELENA, Mont. -- More than a dozen local and federal law enforcement agencies conducted aggressive criminal raids yesterday on 26 medical marijuana dispensaries and grow sites in 13 Montana cities, according to a press release issued today by U.S. Attorney Michael W. Cotter. Federal agencies involved in the raid included the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No arrests were made, but the U.S. Attorney has alleged probable cause for several federal criminal violations.
"Not only are these raids very harmful and unnecessary, they are aimed at undermining the democratic process by preventing the people and legislators of Montana from addressing their own public health concerns," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "There is no doubt these raids were timed to take advantage of a vulnerable political time for Montana patients." Sherer testified Friday at the Senate hearing on HB 161, a bill to repeal the state's voter-approved medical marijuana initiate, which died in committee Monday.
Many patients are in shock from yesterday's events, but the patient community has quickly responded by planning coordinated vigils at various city halls across the state at 5pm on Wednesday. Tomorrow's vigils are being organized by Americans for Safe Access and sponsored by Patients and Families United and Montana Medical Growers Association, which are both statewide medical marijuana groups.
The Montana cities raided yesterday, which included Belgrade, Big Sky, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Dillon, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Miles City, Missoula, Olney and Whitefish, are part of an ongoing federal campaign to undermine state medical marijuana laws, despite a Justice Department memorandum issued in October 2009 allegedly signaling an enforcement policy change. Since the memo was issued a year and a half ago, the federal government has conducted more than 75 raids in California, Colorado, Michigan, Montana and Nevada, resulting in at least two-dozen indictments.
"The public has been hoodwinked into believing the feds have changed their policy with respect to medical marijuana," continued Sherer, "but the evidence points to the same aggressive tactics under President Obama that we saw for years under the Bush Administration." President Bush was responsible for more than 200 raids and dozens of medical marijuana prosecutions during his two terms in office. Advocates argue that raids such as these are never the right approach for a public health issue such as medical marijuana.
In addition to marijuana plants, computers, paperwork and other property seized in yesterday's raids, the federal government has executed Civil Seizure Warrants seeking $4 million from financial institutions in Bozeman, Helena, and Kalispell. This is not only the first federal action of its kind in Montana, focused exclusively on medical marijuana establishments, but the operation was also more broadly enforced than any others that have occurred since President Obama took office.
DOJ Press Release: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/MT_DOJ_Release.pdf