|Photo: Livingston Current
|Under Montana law, qualifying patients and caregivers may grow and possess up to six marijuana plants and one dried smokable ounce of cannabis.
Officers knocked down a Montana man’s door with a battering ram, and once inside, found what they expected — 39 marijuana plants. But they claim that it was only after thousands of dollars in equipment and cannabis were seized and destroyed that they learned Alan Edson is a legal patient, allowed to grow and sell marijuana for medical purposes.
“They proceeded to go through my entire home,” Edson said. “They confiscated and destroyed my legally licensed property and my personal property. They even went through my wife’s underwear drawer,” he said, reports Kim Skornogoski of the Great Falls Tribune
Similar incidents are probably happening weekly across the state, according to State Narcotics Bureau Chief Mark Long. “If we get a tip that a person is growing plants — whether it’s six plants or 600 — we have to investigate it,” Long claimed.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
licenses medical marijuana patients and providers under state law. But in an all-too-common practice of pot-phobic law enforcement officers acting as if they are qualified to practice medicine, local police officers and sheriff’s deputies claim it’s their job to “make sure those people follow the law,” and they go about “making sure” with what seems close to unhealthy zeal.
The number of potential conflicts between overzealous law enforcement and medical marijuana patients has skyrocketed in the past year, with the number of legally licensed cannabis patients growing from 2,000 a year ago to more than 12,000 now.
Valley County drug officers wasted untold tax dollars collecting informant tips and evidence against Edson for nearly a year before the ill-advised raid.
Edson said he kept his business quiet, since he was concerned about gossiping neighbors, home invaders and requests from acquaintances who might want marijuana illegally.
The effort tied up the tiny police department’s scarce personnel and threw away literally thousands of dollars before prosecutors dropped three felony charges and one misdemeanor against Edson last month.
But while the “enforcement headache” that faces law enforcement officers always seems to make it into the headlines, the struggles of seriously ill patients who were unjustly raided seem to be largely ignored.
Between the damaged and destroyed growing equipment and legal fees, Edson said he lost his life savings. His once-retired wife had to return to work to support them. He added that he doesn’t have the cash to start his business again.
“I truly enjoy growing things,” Edson said. “The newness of the business — this was an opportunity to get in on the ground floor. I was honestly trying to do something good.”
Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier claims medical marijuana’s “visibility” creates part of the problem.
“People see it and they smell it and they call us,” Sheriff Meier said. “Law enforcement around this country spends millions of dollars trying to control marijuana. With medical marijuana it makes it all the more confusing.”
Phillips County Sheriff Tom Miller admitted his officers have wasted time investigating numerous cases only to learn later than the person had a state medical marijuana card allowing them to grow and possess cannabis.
Police can call the state’s medical marijuana program to verify if someone is a patient or provider, but officers say they often start with an address, not a name.
The state doesn’t require patients or providers to give the address where they will be growing or selling medical marijuana. The Department of Public Health and Human Services’ website lists the number of patients and caregivers in each Montana county, but doesn’t list exact locations or names for law enforcement.
Medical marijuana patients get the same privacy protection as other people who receive medication or health care, according to DPHHS spokesman Chuck Council. Because many caregivers are also patients, there privacy is protected as well.
Teton County Sheriff Keith Van Setten said he was glad that a few patients and caregivers have walked into his office, showed their cards and shared their addresses.
“We don’t want to harass these people,” he saiud. “If I were a card carrier, I wouldn’t want to suffer the consequences of an unknowing law enforcement officer breaking down my door.”
While groups such as the Montana Caregivers Network encourage patients and caregivers to be open about medical marijuana, they argue strongly against law enforcement being given a list of people using and growing cannabis.
“There’s no need for an adversarial relationship with law enforcement,” Montana Caregivers Network spokesman Doug Chyatte said. “A centralized list doesn’t address the problem. This is not an issue of regulating a vice. This is an herbal medicine that helps many, many people.”
Patients and caregivers are limited to six plants per patient under Montana law. Sheriff’s offices and police departments claim they want to make sure that nobody goes over that limit.