Gwen Florio in the Missoulian:
Federal raids hit medical marijuana shops from Columbia Falls to Billings on Monday, spreading “a horrible mixture of fear and rage” through a community already roiled by high-profile attempts to regulate it.
“The reckless and cruel disregard for the patients that count on these shops is going to cause a lot of heartache,” said John Masterson of Missoula, who heads Montana NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), which live-blogged information about the raids throughout the day Monday.
Advocates for medical marijuana noted that federal agents executed their search warrants even as a Montana Senate panel collected testimony on a bill to repeal the state’s 2004 voter initiative legalizing medicinal use of marijuana. (See related story.)
“It sure feels like a blatant, obvious, calculated, bullying interference by the federal government in Montana decision-making,” said Tom Daubert, a leading medical marijuana advocate, who was in the committee hearing Monday morning when he heard about the raids.
A reader flags the troubling news, adding, “The Feds have not stopped cracking down on medical marijuana even though Obama said they would.”
Jacob Sullum at Reason:
Wait. Didn’t Barack Obama repeatedly promise to call off the DEA’s medical marijuana raids when he was running for president, and didn’t his attorney general instruct federal prosecutors to leave patients and providers alone as long as they are complying with state law? Sort of. Under a policy change announced by the Justice Department in October 2009, U.S. attorneys were told that, “as a general matter,” they “should not focus federal resources” on “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” In practice, this policy means the feds reserve the right to interpret state law and decide whether patients and providers are following it, as illustrated by continued raids in California, Colorado, and Michigan.
Montana, like California and Michigan, allows “caregivers” as well as patients to grow marijuana. Montana’s Medical Marijuana Act (PDF) defines a caregiver as an individual “who has agreed to undertake responsibility for managing the well-being of a person with respect to the medical use of marijuana.” A patient with a doctor’s recommendation may grow up to six plants and possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana for his own consumption, or he can designate a caregiver, who may grow up to six plants on his behalf. Are patients or caregivers allowed to form “cooperatives,” as they do in California, and grow marijuana together? According to the state Department of Public Health & Human Services, which keeps track of registered patients and their caregivers, “the law is silent on this issue.” And although the law specifies that “a qualifying patient may have only one caregiver at any one time,” it does not seem to address the question of whether a caregiver may grow marijuana for more than one patient.
The upshot is that the DEA can always argue that any individual or group of people with more than six plants (or more than one ounce of usable marijuana) in one place is not “in clear and unambiguous compliance” with Montana law. That would be the case even if state courts explicitly approved grow operations and dispensaries operated by patients or caregivers. Federal raids have continued in California even though the state attorney general (now the governor) said dispensaries are permitted.
Jeralyn at Talk Left:
Medical marijuana has been legal in Montana since 2004. Efforts are underway in the legislature to repeal it.
On Monday in the state Legislature, a committee deadlocked on a bill that would repeal the state’s medical marijuana law.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-6 on House Speaker Mike Milburn’s House Bill 161, which would repeal the law passed by voters in 2004. Unless the deadlock is broken, the bill is dead.
Among the federal agencies involved in the raids:
[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.
It sure sounds like the raids were timed to coincide with the consideration of the repeal bill. These raids occurred all over the state, including: Belgrade, Big Sky, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Dillon, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Miles City, Missoula, Olney and Whitefish.
Montana patients are not staying silent:
[T]he 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.
Americans for Safe Access is distributing this Raid Emergency Response Plan for businesses who fear being raided.
Jason Sullem at Reason has more on Montana’s medical marijuana muddle. The problem is that Obama and AG Eric Holder’s positions are vague and arbitrarily enforced, as evident from the October, 2009 memo.
The Obama Administration is not committed to allowing medical marijuana in states with laws that allow it. As I wrote here,
[T]he Holder statements and Ogden Memo are not enough protection. Short of legalization, Congress at least needs to pass a law disallowing prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers who are in compliance with state law — or at a minimum, a law that expressly allows patients, caregivers and providers to raise compliance with state law as an affirmative defense to a federal prosecution.
Congressman Jared Polis is seeking decriminalization at the federal level. He’s even appearing at industry events. I have doubts it will happen at the federal level while Obama is President. The next best thing is protection from federal prosecution. (More on Polis’ efforts here.)
Caitlin Dickson at The Atlantic:
The raids raise questions about the legitimacy of state marijuana laws in the face of a federal government that considers any production and sale of the substance to be illegal. They also highlight two particular areas where the difference between federal and state marijuana laws collide.
Drug trafficking: Possession was not the issue in Monday’s Montana raids nor Tuesday’s in California. Rather, agents targeted marijuana providers. These raids have elicited outrage from those who recall President Obama’s promise that the Justice Department would be more “hands off” with regard to prosecuting marijuana users and distributors in states that have legalized the medical use of pot. Just last month, AOL News’ Jacob Sullum analyzed the instructions U.S. attorney’s received in November to apply said lenience only to “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws.” He notes that states like California may allow patients or their “caregivers” to grow their pot collectively and sell it to other patients at dispensaries, but to U.S. attorneys or the DEA, dispensaries themselves “are completely illegal” regardless of the state’s law, “because they exchange pot for money.”
Tax evasion: The raided growers and dispensaries is Montana and California are all being charged with tax evasion. In states that have legalized medical marijuana use, medical marijuana dispensaries should be considered legal businesses. But, according to the I.R.S., “no deductable credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business…consists of trafficking in controlled substances…which is prohibited by Federal Law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted.” That would, of course, pose quite a problem for filing taxes.
It’s possible in these two raids that there were other crimes suspected of the operators than just the sale of pot. Until the courts unseal the records, we won’t know the answer to that, as apparently no one in the DoJ wants to talk about it at the moment. If not, though, one can certainly argue that the statements of Obama and Holder about leaving state-licensed vendors alone amount to a moral case of entrapment, if not a legal case.
What is the actual Obama administration policy on licensed marijuana vendors in states like California? Shouldn’t they make that clear so that the operators of these clinics have a chance to adapt to a clear legal environment?