|Photo: Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette|
|Billings Police and Fire Departments investigate the scene of a firebomb thrown through the front door of Montana Therapeutics, a medical marijuana store, May 10, 2010.|
Hateful rhetoric leads to hateful actions. This should-be self-evident axiom was once again demonstrated when two medical marijuana businesses were firebombed in the last two days in Billings, Montana.
“It was ugly, and it was a hate crime,” said David Couch, owner of Big Sky Patient Care, one of the two medical marijuana provides vandalized in the last two days, reports Kahrin Deines of the Billings Gazette.
The firebombs thrown through the front door of two medical marijuana businesses in Billings were accompanied with a hateful message. “NOT IN OUR TOWN” was spray painted on the fronts of both buildings, according to the owners.
Big Sky, located in the Rimrock Mall, was hit early Sunday while its owner was celebrating Mother’s Day with his wife. The second medical marijuana business, Montana Therapeutics, was hit early Monday on Grand Avenue.
Billings police and fire crews responded to a call at 4:30 a.m. on Monday; the small fire was extinguished at Montana Therapeutics . Three businesses — Montana Therapeutics, The Green Room and Montana Billiard Supply -=- share the storefront space in the building, the Billings Gazette reports.
The bombs left owners rattled and patients and others outraged, just before a scheduled City Council meeting to decide whether to restrict the industry’s growth.
The escalating and increasingly shrill scare campaign against legitimate and legal medical marijuana businesses, spearheaded by forces more interested in fomenting fear than in fostering productive dialog, is having very unfortunate results in the Big Sky State.
The graffiti was quickly removed from the windows at Big Sky, which are decorated with paintings by Couch’s six-year-old granddaughter. Shattered glass and broken decorative vases still littered the pebbled concrete of the business’s main entry.
Video surveillance footage of the firebombing at Big Sky showed two people wearing hoods outside the storefront around 5 a.m. Within a minute, one spray paints the message on the window, while the other uses a projectile to start the fire in the store’s entryway.
Big Sky was only been open in its mall location for a few weeks, but has held its municipal license since January. Montana Therapeutics has also been open a few months, making it unlikely either business would be affected by any moratorium passed by the City Council.
Police said they had no suspects or leads in the incidents as of Monday afternoon. The firebombings were estimated to have caused thousands of dollars in damage.
The Billings City Council has heard heated debates about medical marijuana in recent weeks. The council is considering a moratorium on new cannabis providers in the city.
The skyrocketing number of medical marijuana users and providers, including around 80 businesses in Billings, has fueled efforts to institute zoning regulations and other restrictions in Montana.
One of the four owners of Montana Therapeutics said they support efforts to restrict the opening of medical marijuana businesses near schools.
“It’s tough to know that you’re doing it right when there’s so much gray area,” Hodges, 31. said. But marijuana businesses should not be banned from city limits after voters approved their operation in a 2004 ballot initiative, Hodges added.
Hodges sat at a table that had been moved from the business’s waiting room, which was now empty with a charred, waterlogged carpet and the nearby window spray painted with the hateful graffiti, “NOT IN OUR TOWN.”
“It’s just as much my town as anybody else’s town,” Hodges said.
The spray-painted message repeats thge name of an anti-hate group active in Billings for years. Eran Thompson, director of Not In Our Town, said board members are considering whether to campaign against the firebombings as they have against hate crimes directed at religious and ethnic groups.
“For someone to co-opt our message in this way is really sickening to us,” Thompson said.