Federal drug officials on Monday raided at least 10 medical marijuana operations in at least six Montana towns.
Federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration were seen clearing hundreds of marijuana plants out of Montana Cannabis’ greenhouses Monday as local law enforcement officials stood by outside the building. Montana Cannabis, with one facility just west of Helena, is one of the state’s largest medical marijuana operations.
Several employees were also detained for questioning.
According to Chris Williams, one of the owners of Montana Cannabis, agents were executing a warrant signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch of Missoula.
A copy of the warrant served at a different facility and also signed by Lynch states that the warrant was issued on Friday but that officials had until March 24 to execute the search. It is not clear if more raids are planned in the coming days or weeks.
According to the warrant, agents were authorized to seize everything from marijuana and hashish and Ziploc bags to cell phones, computers and medical marijuana patient lists.
“(Judge Lynch) authorized federal agents to come in and enforce federal law above state law,” Williams said. “This is a state issue not a federal issue. There shouldn’t be federal agents on my ground when we’ve done everything we can to do this right.”
“It sounds like a pretty big shock and awe job,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, in Washington, D.C.
“At best, it was a misuse of federal resources to go after these legal businesses which are helping severely ill people get access to the medicine they need,” he said.
“At worst, it is undermining the will of Montana voters and the directive of Attorney General Eric Holder that the feds would back off in states that have approved medical marijuana.”
Smith said recent polls show that voter support for medical marijuana is stronger now than when the law was first approved years ago.
“The DEA has no more right to do this in Montana than it would in Colorado,” he said. “The battle (over the legalization) of medical marijuana is far from over and won’t be won until federal laws are changed,” he said.
The Montana House of Representatives voted last month to overturn the state’s medical marijuana law. The State Senate, though, yesterday turned the measure back in committee on a 6-6 vote.