Posts Tagged ‘montana’
by Matt Volz, Great Falls Tribune
HELENA — Four of the six medical marijuana providers who are suing the U.S. government over last year’s raids of pot businesses across Montana have been arrested on federal drug charges, their lawyer in the civil lawsuit said Tuesday.
The medical marijuana businesses of the four plaintiffs arrested Tuesday and last Thursday were among more than 26 homes, businesses and warehouses searched in sweeping raids last spring that shut down many providers and cast a pall over Montana’s booming pot business.
The lawsuit, which challenges the constitutionality of raiding medical marijuana providers who were operating under a voter-approved Montana law, is before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a district judge rejected their claims in January.
The attorney in the lawsuit, Paul Livingston of New Mexico, said he did not know why the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are being targeted now.
“It seems senseless to us. It’s as if the government wants to show how devastating they can be to people’s lives because they’re involved in this business,” Livingston said.
One of those arrested, Randy Leibenguth of Belgrade, said he does not believe the timing of the arrests has anything to do with the civil lawsuit. His business, MCM Caregivers, was raided in March 2011.
“They were taking a year to gather information to come up with a good case and make it hard for us to fight back,” he said Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jessica Fehr said federal prosecutors did not have comment on the new arrests. Federal prosecutors have repeatedly refused to comment on the raids and subsequent prosecution of medical marijuana providers.
Leibenguth and another Belgrade medical marijuana provider, Luke Mulvaugh, were arrested last Thursday along with Leibenguth’s wife, Stephanie. They spent five days in jail before being released on Monday, Leibenguth said.
They were indicted on charges of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, manufacture and distribution of marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana, according to court documents. The conspiracy charge carries a minimum of 10 years to life in prison and a $5 million fine if convicted, while the two other charges carry a punishment of at least five years in prison each.
by Scot Kersgaard, The Colorado Independant
In a case that has implications for Colorado and other medical marijuana states, Montana legislator Diane Sands has come under investigation by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, but she doesn’t know why. She suspects the investigation is related to her advocacy of liberalized marijuana laws.
She told the Colorado Independent that she has no involvement in medical marijuana beyond her work in the legislature. The Missoula Democrat, though, has been very outspoken in the legislature, advocating for liberalized medical marijuana laws and also advocating for the federal de-listing of marijuana, so that it becomes an issue that can be decided by individual states.
“Because of the federal supremacy clause, federal law always trumps state law,” she says. “We fought a civil war over this. There is nothing a state can do to make marijuana legal, or even to make medical marijuana legal, but there is a process to change that at the federal level. Now that so many states have made medical marijuana legal, the federal government should remove marijuana from Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act, and let the states regulate marijuana as they see fit,” she says.
“I don’t believe I should be investigated by the DEA for saying that. Any suggestion that the federal government is investigating me is very chilling. I’m an historian, so yes, I connect present activities to past activities, such as the Sedition Act of 1918 and the McCarthy hearings. When you have government officials investigating lawmakers because of how they pursue their official duties, you have a problem,” she contends.
“It is outrageous and absurd that the DEA would investigate a state lawmaker for doing her job: crafting state laws. When he ran for president, Barack Obama said he would not circumvent state medical marijuana laws. The president needs to keep his word and order the Justice Department to back off, and to focus on real crime instead of targeting medical marijuana providers and interfering with states’ democratic processes,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This could have a chilling effect on lawmakers who want to be involved in regulating medical marijuana in any state.”
“This is part of the continuing witch-hunt in Montana,” said Jim Gingery, executive director of the Montana Medical Growers Association. “They have already successfully intimidated law-abiding
businesspeople, and now they are attempting to intimidate any politician who is opposed to full prohibition. This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Gingery said. “They will try to discredit anyone involved in medical marijuana in Montana.”
Sands said her name came up when a DEA agent asked a witness whether Sands was involved in a drug conspiracy case under investigation. That person’s attorney told Sands that her name had come up.
From the Missoulian:
A possible witness in a federal drug investigation was asked whether Sands might be part of a conspiracy to sell medical marijuana. The questions came from Drug Enforcement Administration agents from Billings who were investigating medical marijuana businesses, and Sands learned about the inquiry from the witness’ attorney.
“So now, if you’re a state legislator who has been working on medical marijuana laws, you are somehow part of a conspiracy,” said Sands, who represents House District 95 in Missoula and works as development director for the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. “It’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s also threatening to think that the federal government is willing to use its influence and try to chill discussion about this subject.”
DEA Special Agent Mike Turner, spokesperson for the DEA, out of Denver, told the Missoulian that the debate over medical marijuana is wracked by confusion.
From the Missoulian:
“We’re not interested in sick people, but we are interested in people who are profiting significantly. If they are, they are fair game as long as there is a reasonable expectation for a successful prosecution.”
“It is true that we’ve got competing laws in place here with states with medical marijuana laws, but federal law is clear,” he said. “Marijuana is illegal under federal law. If you are involved in selling marijuana, trafficking marijuana, profiting from marijuana, you are in jeopardy. We get questions about what we’ll investigate and what we won’t, and we can’t give that answer. But if you’re involved with profiting from marijuana, you’re in jeopardy.”
Turner apparently wouldn’t tell the Missoulian whether Sands was under investigation or why.
“What we are doing in Montana is part of an ongoing investigation that we cannot comment on,” he told the Colorado Independent. “This is not confirming or denying anything about Ms. Sands. We typically don’t go to the press to discuss who we are looking at or not looking at.
“As you know, marijuana is illegal federally and there is no exception in federal law for marijuana to be used as medicine,” Turner said.
He said the DEA and the Department of Justice are not investigating individual users or “street level” sellers of marijuana. “We go after folks who are distributing on a significant level. People who are profiting significantly are fair game,” he said.
A year ago the DEA orchestrated a massive raid on medical marijuana businesses in Montana, where voters approved legalizing medical marijuana by a substantial majority.
by Adam Cohen, Time Magazine
The drive to legalize marijuana has long been a fringe cause, associated with hard-core libertarians and college-age stoners. But it could go mainstream in a big way in this November’s election, when Washington could become the first state to legalize recreational pot use. If it does — or if voters in any of several other states do — this year could be a turning point in the nation’s treatment of marijuana.
The idea that a majority of voters could support legalizing marijuana may seem far out — but the polls say otherwise. In many states, the prolegalization and antilegalization camps are roughly equal in size. In a poll of Washington state voters released last month, supporters of the legalization referendum outnumbered opponents: 48% vs. 45%. And Washington probably won’t be the only state voting on marijuana this year. In Colorado, supporters last week fell about 3,000 signatures short of getting a legalization measure on the ballot — but the law gave them 15 days to collect the rest, and it seems likely they will. Activists are also collecting signatures in other states, including California, Michigan and Montana.
For years, the debate over marijuana has been focused on a narrower question: medical marijuana. The argument that cancer patients and others with chronic pain should be able to alleviate it by using marijuana has been prevailing in state after state. Today, 16 states — including Washington and Colorado — and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
Recently, the action has shifted to recreational marijuana use. Washington’s referendum would treat pot much like alcohol, so the sale of marijuana would be restricted to people over 21. The new law would give the Liquor Control Board the authority to license marijuana farms, and marijuana tax revenues would be directed to health and drug-abuse prevention programs.
But other states’ proposed laws are more laissez-faire. Colorado would legalize marijuana so that, as its supporters put it, cannabis would be regulated like “grapes, tomatoes or other harmless botanical plants.” Montana’s amendment focuses on decriminalizing marijuana but leaves it to the legislature to work out the details.
Supporters argue that legalization is long overdue. They argue that it is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco — and that in a free country people should be able to decide on their own whether to use it. They also argue that, as a practical matter, laws against marijuana have been no more successful than Prohibition was against alcohol — and that, similarly, it has given criminals a monopoly on distributing and selling it. Legalization, they say, would reduce the number of people in prison, and it would shift revenue from drug syndicates to government in the form of tax receipts.
Not surprisingly, the legalization drives have drawn heated opposition. Critics argue that marijuana is harmful and addictive — and that it is often a gateway drug, leading to cocaine or heroin. They say stoned drivers would be a menace on the roads. And they warn that if it were legalized and readily available, marijuana use could soar. (The University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” survey reported that daily marijuana use is already at a 30-year high among high school seniors, even as alcohol use has been declining.) The anticamp also argues that marijuana is stronger than it was decades ago — from two to 10 times stronger, some experts say. (Other experts dispute the figures.)
If Washington or some other state legalizes marijuana, that would not settle the matter. It would still be a controlled substance under federal law. And the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause says that when federal and state laws clash, federal law trumps. As a practical matter, though, the federal government does not have the resources to police everyday use of marijuana. If states begin to legalize it, the federal government might be hard-pressed to justify diverting limited Drug Enforcement Agency resources away from heroin cartels toward small-time pot smokers.
It is hard to handicap this year’s voting, but one possibility is this: marijuana legalization could lose in Washington and Colorado in November, but recreational use could nonetheless be headed toward legalization in many states in the not-too-distant future. Support for legalization has been rising steadily, from just 12% in 1970 to 31% in 2001 to 50% today, with young people (ages 18-29) the most in favor (62%) and older people (ages 50-64) the least (49%).
In strictly political terms, this is a powerful combination: fast-growing support and solid majorities among the young, who represent where the electorate is headed. (Support for gay marriage polls similarly — which is why it is becoming law in more states.) In a few years, the national discussion may well turn from whether to legalize marijuana to how to do it in the most prudent way.
by Matt Volz, Great Falls Tribune
HELENA — A judge has ruled that Montana’s medical marijuana law doesn’t shield providers of the drug from federal prosecution, delivering a new blow to an industry reeling from a state and federal crackdown.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy on Friday dismissed a civil lawsuit filed by 14 individuals and businesses that were among more than two dozen medical marijuana providers raided by federal agents last year across Montana.
The providers claimed the raids violated their constitutional rights in part because state law passed by voter initiative in 2004 allows them to grow and produce the drug for medical consumption.
Molloy wrote in his order that the providers can be prosecuted under the federal Controlled Substances Act even if they are following state law. He cited a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause applies in medical marijuana cases.
The supremacy clause says that federal law prevails if there is any conflict between state and federal statutes.
“Whether the plaintiffs’ conduct was legal under Montana law is of little significance here, since the alleged conduct clearly violates federal law,” Molloy wrote. “We are all bound by federal law, like it or not.”
The medical marijuana providers also argued that the Justice Department had said it would not prosecute them, citing a 2009 agency memo called the Ogden Memo after its author, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden.
In that memo, Ogden wrote that federal prosecutors would not pursue “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”
Molloy wrote that Ogden’s memo was not a free pass to produce and consume marijuana, and the memo itself says complying with state law does not create a legal defense to violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
“A reasonable person, having read the entirety of the Ogden Memo, could not conclude that the federal government was somehow authorizing the production and consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes,” he wrote.
Carl Jensen, the Great Falls attorney representing the medical marijuana providers, said Molloy’s ruling should serve as a warning to other providers still operating in the state.
“The supremacy clause has been used by the federal government to hammer anything they want to,” Jensen said. “Absolutely, they should be concerned. If the federal government ever decides it wants to go after them, it can.”
Jensen said a decision has not been made on whether to appeal.
U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Jessica Fehr said federal prosecutors had no comment on the ruling.
The federal raids in March 2010 placed a chill over Montana’s booming medical marijuana industry, causing several providers to close down because their inventories had been seized or out from fear that their businesses would be next. Several raided providers have pleaded guilty to federal drug charges.
Lawmakers struggled last year to come up with a solution for what many people perceived to be an industry that at that time was growing too quickly and with too few rules. The final bill repealed the original voter-approved law in favor of one that aimed to dramatically curtail the for-profit medical marijuana industry.
That legislative action is currently under legal review, and will also appear on the November ballot for voters to endorse or reject.
Portions of the new law have been temporarily blocked by a state judge, but the result has been a dramatic decline in the number of medical marijuana patients and providers. There were 18,012 registered marijuana users at the end of December, compared to 31,522 at the end of May, according to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.
There were 395 registered marijuana providers at the end of December, compared to 4,650 at the end of May.
A group of lawmakers meeting Monday in Helena received an update on the ongoing developments. Many believe it will again require some sort of legislative action when lawmakers convene in 2013.
Sen. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, said the federal crackdown could mean the state has to revisit how it allows distribution of the drug under its medical marijuana law.
“Is there any value in looking at this question of how you get this medical marijuana to the patient who is legitimately sick?” Wittich said. “How do we ensure the product is available for people who are sick?”
Associated Press writer Matt Gouras contributed to this report.
**UPDATES: Indiana is considering a medical initiative proposed in January 2012. California Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has added the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012 in a hopes of reigning in the industry that has flourished there. 17 states are now considering medical marijuana bills: Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Ohio, Wisconsin, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampsire, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia and New York
Loved it or hated it, California’s Proposition 19 seems to have set off waves across the country that will shore up votes and swing the political tide in 2012. Pro-legalization Texas Congressman Ron Paul was an extremely close third in last nights Iowa Caucuses, four more states are mulling medical marijuana and there are now over 13 initiatives cycling through 8 states for all out legalization.
Some of these states are the usual suspects: California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. On the other hand, Midwestern bellwether Missouri has a solid and organized campaign with favorable early polling.
Check out the list below, suggest additions and help out if you’re a local!
California: Medical state since 1996
The Golden State is once again looking at voting for legalization in 2012. Three separate initiatives are aiming for the ballot in 2012. What if more than one makes it? The one with the most votes wins.
Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act of 2012
This initiative takes its cue from those states that repealed alcohol prohibition before and after the 18th amendment. By 1966, all states had repealed their alcohol prohibition laws. Essentially, this initiative, if passed, will put enforcement of Federal marijuana laws 100% in the hands of the Feds. No state resources would go to enforce the Federal law.
California Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative
This is the Jack Herer initiative, which as the late hemp legend intended it to be written, is short, vague and would legalize marijuana for recreational and medical use as well as the industrial cultivation of hemp, which is a non-psychoactive substance currently illegal to cultivate domestically but imported from abroad that, as Jack Herer famously espoused can replace petroleum plastics, fuels and a wide variety of products that contribute to global climate change.
Regulate Marijuana like Wine
This initiative takes its cue from the flourishing wine industry in California. Some estimates say that the marijuana industry (legal and illegal) is now larger than Hollywood films, California wine and agriculture combined. This initiative aims to not only make this massive industry legal but capitalize on the tax revenues on this mega-industry in an ailing state.
Oregon: Medical state since 1998
Like California, its neighbors to the North are also planning on voting for three separate legalization initiatives in November.
Oregon Cannabis Tax Act 2012
The OCTA as it has been dubbed, like the CCHHI 2012 would restore the industrial production of hemp in the State of Oregon. It also takes cues from Prop 19 by taxing marijuana sales and allocating portions of the revenues to drug treatment and education programs as well as green programs. It should be noted however, that the official website, to the detriment of the argument to re-legalize hemp production, erroneously defines hemp as “the seeds and stems of the marijuana plant,” rather than its own, non-psychoactive substance which happens to be in the cannabis family.
Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative
Also known as Petition #24 this is an amendment to the State’s constitution legalizing marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and puts regulation in the hands of the State legislature.
Sensible Oregon has not yet gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Similar to California RCPA, it intentionally is vague in its language as far as regulation but does the job by simply legalizing it.
Washington: Medical state since 1998
….and Washington makes three. The entire West Coast may have legal marijuana, hemp cultivation, or a combination of the two or maybe none of the above.
I-502 made national headlines last week when they successfully turned in the required amount of signatures to qualify for the Washington ballot. The initiative has many parallels with California’s Proposition 19 in 2010, which failed to pass with 46% of the vote. For instance, a vocal group with notable supporters Patients Against I-502 have many of the same issues with it as those within the California marijuana community who were against Prop 19.
Colorado: Medical state since 2000
Like California, Colorado has enjoyed the fruits of a flourishing medical marijuana industry. Unlike California, Colorado’s industry is allowed to be just that– an industry with for-profit dispensaries. There is a lot of money in Colorado and a lot of opportunity to be had, whether or not it is at the benefit of Colorado’s medical marijuana patients. Two initiatives are vying for the public vote, which since last March, have already created stark contrasts in their approaches.
Campaign to Legalize Marijuana Like Alcohol
Legalize Like Alcohol has officially turned in signatures qualifying it for the November ballot. Despite disputes with the Legalize 2012 camp, this campaign was able to gather enough signatures to be on the ballot. But, like Washington’s I-502 and California’s Proposition 19, it includes criminal penalties surrounding the use of marijuana by those under the age of 21 as well as adding a tax to recreation marijuana sales.
Safer’s Mason Tvert filed eight separate initiatives with minor differences to feel out the differences and create a winnable ballot initiative. Legalize 2012 touts their initiative as the “True Legalization” initiative, a blatant jab at Legalize Like Alcohol.
Missouri: Not a medical state
Show-Me Cannabis Regulation
Yes, you read that right. There is a legalization initiative now gathering signatures in Missouri. Just image how nervous the Prohibitionists are getting in neighboring Kansas, which shares its Western border with Colorado and Missouri to the east. Legalization has been gaining steam in Missouri, a Libertarian stronghold, for years as very gruesome and public SWAT raids on marijuana warrants sparked the legalization debate. The bill is very loosely based on the Jack Herer initiative (see California Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative 2012) and is being backed by seasoned activists in Missouri including National NORML board-member Dan Viets, former SSDP coordinator Amber Langston (Campaign Director), organizer of the Joplin, MO Cannabis Revival Kelly Maddy and California’s Guru of Ganja, Ed Rosenthal, whose organization Green Aid has taken an active role in Missouri marijuana politics.
Michigan: Medical state since 2008
Ballot Initiative to End Marijuana Prohibition
The Detroit-based campaign is still in the early signature-gathering stages of the campaign but is dedicated to getting the law on the ballot this year. Money may prove a challenge as Michigan’s newly-established medical marijuana industry has faced a staunch crackdown in the last couple years by local authorities. This initiative is touted as one being brought to the ballot from outside the marijuana community on the premise that the laws preventing marijuana use have become far more dangerous than the substance itself.
Nebraska, which is not a medical sate and Montana, a former medical state which recently shuttered its doors to the marijuana industry have smaller, quieter campaigns that are unlikely to collect enough ballot signatures to qualify.
by Matt Volz, Great Falls Tribune
HELENA — The collapse of the state’s once-booming medical marijuana industry after lawmakers passed tough restrictions and federal agents raided dozens of pot providers was Montana’s top news story of 2011, according to The Associated Press’ annual member poll.
It’s the second straight year Montana editors have chosen medical marijuana the top story, but the industry couldn’t be any more different after just 12 months. In 2010, towns were scrambling to figure out how to deal with the pot shops that were popping up on street corners as a rapidly expanding registry rose from 2,000 users at the beginning of 2009 to a peak of more than 30,000 by June of this year.
Since then, the bottom has fallen out. The number of registered users has dropped more than 36 percent from that peak, to just 19,239 people in November, as tougher standards to qualify for the registry have prevented many people from obtaining or renewing cards. The number of medical marijuana providers has dropped even more precipitously, from a peak of 4,848 in March to just 383 in November.
The decline started in March, when federal agents raided dozens of medical marijuana businesses, warehouses and provider homes. Agents seized drugs, cash, guns and vehicles, and the U.S. Attorney’s office warned state leaders that prosecutors would pursue anybody suspected of trafficking in the drug.
The raids were the first blow to providers. Those who were raided went bust and many others closed down or went underground out of fear.
As federal agents were carrying out the raids, state lawmakers were considering a repeal of the medical marijuana law that voters approved in 2004. The Republicans leading the Legislature said medical marijuana had gotten out of control and turned into a retail industry that went far beyond what the voters had intended.
The Legislature passed the repeal and would have outlawed medical marijuana altogether had Gov. Brian Schweitzer not vetoed the bill and sent lawmakers back to the drawing board with time running out in the session. They emerged with an overhaul that added many restrictions to the law, including a ban on making a profit from marijuana sales, stronger medical proof to register as a patient and a requirement to investigate any doctor who recommends more than 25 patients in a year.
A marijuana advocacy group immediately sued to overturn the new law and began gathering signatures for a 2012 ballot initiative to repeal the changes. District Judge James Reynolds blocked several provisions from taking effect, including the ban on profits and the investigation into doctors.
The judge’s block is temporary until the legal challenge plays out, but the Montana Cannabis Industry Association has gathered enough signatures to put a repeal question on the 2012 ballot. In the meantime, numerous medical marijuana providers who were targeted in the raids have pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking charges.
Other top stories:
2 — An Exxon Mobil pipeline broke and spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, sickening residents, oiling or killing hundreds of animals and leading to an increased scrutiny of pipelines crossing waterways in Montana. Federal officials have not yet determined a cause for the break and Exxon has said the cost of the spill and repairs could reach $135 million. But that estimate doesn’t include possible fines or the potential cost of a lawsuit filed by landowners dissatisfied with the cleanup.
3 — Montana Republicans stormed into the 2011 legislative session with control of both legislative chambers and an ambitious plan to tackle everything from medical marijuana to the way the state takes federal money to run its programs. But some of their most conservative measures crumbled under legislative examination or were stymied by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who famously called some of the proposals “bat-crap crazy.”
4 — Flooding swept through towns and counties across the state as heavy spring rains coupled with the melting of an unusually high mountain snowpack swamped low-lying areas. Flooding cut off whole communities, destroyed crops and damaged irrigation systems, leading federal emergency officials to approve more than $29 million in public and individual assistance and loans. Some 48 counties and five Indian reservations received aid.
5 — A district judge freed Barry Beach after nearly 28 years behind bars for the 1979 murder of a Poplar teen. District Judge E. Wayne Phillips ordered a new trial and released Beach on his own recognizance after Phillips said there was enough evidence presented at a hearing last summer to raise doubts about Beach’s guilt.
6 — Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg decided to challenge first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in a 2012 campaign considered as one of the pivotal races for control of the Senate.
7 — Congress lifted endangered species protections for the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf, effectively ending a court battle that had lasted years and allowing Montana and Idaho to hold their second-ever wolf hunts. Protections remained in place in Wyoming, where the state law is considered hostile to the species’ survival.
8 — A quarter century without a fatal grizzly bear attack in Yellowstone National Park ended last summer when two hikers were killed in separate attacks a month apart. Park officials killed a 250-pound female bear that left DNA evidence at the site of both maulings, though officials said they may never know definitively whether the same bear killed California hiker Brian Matayoshi and John Wallace of Michigan.
9 — Author Jon Krakauer and “60 Minutes” revealed discrepancies in humanitarian and Bozeman resident Greg Mortenson’s best-selling book, “Three Cups of Tea,” about how Mortenson started building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson denied fabricating anything and denied allegations that he benefited financially from his charity, Central Asia Institute. The allegations led to the Montana attorney general opening an inquiry into the charity and a civil lawsuit filed by Montana and Illinois residents who bought his books.
10 — Senior Montana U.S. Sen. Max Baucus joined the congressional supercommittee tasked with crafting a bipartisan deal to reduce the nation’s deficit. Baucus, a Democrat, remained optimistic that a deal could be reached, only to see the talks crumble amid partisan finger-pointing.