By David Downs on May 27, 2016
Allegations of interstate marijuana trafficking and distributing cannabis in excess of Montana medical marijuana law might have been behind last week’s raid on the Four Corners outlet of Montana Buds, the state’s largest brand.
According to news reports today, a Missouri River Drug Task Force detective requested a warrant in Gallatin County in April to place a concealed audio recording device on a confidential informant in a Montana Buds investigation.
“Montana Buds was suspected of distributing ‘large quantities’ of marijuana outside the state.
The application said the business is also suspected of distributing ‘larger amounts’ of marijuana to people than allowed under Montana law, citing multiple confidential informants.”
No arrests were reported in the day-long raid by federal officials and the Task Force. Representatives of Montana Buds — a franchise of eight cultivator collectives — said the group follows state law, and had done nothing wrong.
“There’s a reason they showed up wearing masks and didn’t arrest anyone. We didn’t get raided, we got robbed,” said a representative, who didn’t want to be named due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Washington DC spokespeople for the Drug Enforcement Administration have not answered emailed requests for comment. Local reports state that a DEA spokesman and Missouri River Drug Task Force Commander Jake Wagner also both declined to comment on the raid.
Seven of eight Montana Buds are open in the longtime battleground state for medical cannabis access.
“We’re not going to run away from them and we’re not going to be scared, and our stores are open today because we have done nothing wrong,” the representative said.
Agents from the DEA and a local task force raided the franchise of the state’s largest medical cannabis provider at 10:30 a.m. when the store opened Wednesday morning.
Witnesses at the raid at Montana Buds in Four Corners, MT reported six members of law enforcement taking items out of the dispensary and placing them in a storage trailer.
“I have no idea why they are being attacked, [the dispensary owner] has always been a great neighbor,” said Four Corners metalworking business owner Mike Winters.
A DEA agent on the scene declined to comment, stating “this is now a federal investigation.”
The federal government is generally standing down in the face of ongoing medical and adult-use legalization. The Department of Justice is under guidance from the White House to focus its limited resources away from state-legal cannabis activity, and focus on inter-state drug trafficking, cartel activity, and marijuana activity involving guns, other drugs, or minors.
The raid sent a chill through the medical cannabis community in Montana, which is already in crisis-mode after the state’s Supreme Court ruled against patients in February.
Activists — including the state’s marijuana providers — are working to fund and gather signatures in support of Initiative 182 which explicitly legalizes dispensaries, and repeals state laws that clipped the industry starting in 2011. Montana voters enacted Initiative 148 in 2004, decriminalizing medical cannabis, including small, personal grows, starting a seven-year industry expansion through 2011.
The Montana marijuana industry also appealed the February Montana State Supreme Court verdict to the Supreme Court of the United States, said Kate Cholewa, lobbyist for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.
SCOTUS can either dismiss the appeal, agree to hear it, or delay a decision until after their June recess, she said. If SCOTUS agrees to hear the appeal or more than likely delay, patients in Montana can motion to stay the Aug. 31 shutdown of the industry, pending SCOTUS review.
Montana Buds is a large provider in the state, according to Cholewa. She told Cannabis Now that whether or not the business was following state law – either instance is cause for better state rules. The MCIA is about half-way to collecting enough signatures to put I-182 on the November ballot.
“We have a problematic law. It’s really not functional at all,” she said. “If it’s bad state laws or bad actors — it doesn’t matter. We need an initiative in place so we have clear laws so people can follow them in Montana with licenses and inspections.”
Attorney Chris Lindsey with the Montana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws also told Cannabis Now that the state needs modern cannabis regulations now – by popular vote or through the legislature.
“We do not yet know what the basis is for the law enforcement activity, and so we are not in a position to speculate. What we can say, is the best way to minimize law enforcement activity against marijuana-related businesses is through a meaningful regulatory system. Montana’s system is practically non-existent and falls short of practically any standard. Montanans may soon be in a position to change that, whether its through the voter initiative process currently underway, or through the state legislature next year. Either way, we hope Montana can significantly improve the current law.”