|Both federal and local law enforcement took part in the raid on Montana Cannabis in Helena.|
You have to wonder about the timing. On the very same morning that a Montana Senate committee failed to endorse a bill that would have repealed the state’s medical marijuana law, federal agents, with guns drawn, hit at least 10 dispensaries across the state Monday.
“The timing is impeccable,” said Chris Lindsey, a Missoula attorney who specializes in medical marijuana cases, reports Gwen Florio of The Missoulian.
“They’re seizing everything — plants, marijuana, grow equipment, files and computers,” Lindsey said. “It’s very, very broad in its scope.” The attorney said he retains a business interest in Montana Cannabis, one of the dispensaries where federal search warrants were executed.
Employees and clients stood around outside the Missoula branch of Montana Cannabis early Monday afternoon. The shop shut down after Monday morning’s raid.
“We’re closed,” said employee Toni Ware to clients as they pulled up to the shop. “We’re closed,” she repeated.
“They even took our cannabis-infused lotion,” Ware said a minute later.
Included in the federal raids was the huge Montana Cannabis greenhouse in Helena, with agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI, with Lewis and Clerk County and the Helena Police Department taking part, according to The Associated Press.
At least eight people were led away from the greenhouse in handcuffs, according to the AP report. Employee Brett Thompson, 30, said federal agents questioned each worker individually and then released them, except for one worker who had an outstanding warrant, reports CNBC.
Inside, agents in DEA and FBI jackets wearing respirator masks and blue gloves jerked waist-high plants from their pots and hauled them away out of sight, wrapped in blue tarps.
Montana Cannabis co-owner Christopher Williams told The Associated Press that raids were taking place at other dispensaries, including Big Sky Patient Care in Bozeman, at MCM in Belgrade and at Good Medicine Providers in Columbia Falls.
“It’s strictly a political move to stop us from providing medicine to sick people,” said Williams, standing outside the fence at Montana Cannabis.
Barbara Trego, Williams’s mother and another worker at Montana Cannabis, said some of the people who use the company’s marijuana are cancer patients and she feared what would happen to them if the operation shut down.
“We weren’t trying to hide anything,” Trego said. “Our windows are open. Our door was open. We’ve got patients that could die just by what’s happened today.”
Williams said of the 1,680 plants inside the greenhouse near Helena, 480 were flowering plants that produce about five ounces of marijuana each. He said he sells ounces for $190, meaning about $456,000 worth of marijuana was “seized” from that one location.
“Word is coming in literally as we speak,” said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a national group which advocates for medical marijuana patients.
Like Lindsey, Hermes noticed that the raids coincided with Montana’s legislative action.
“This smacks of officials, whether law enforcement or hostile local public officials, not getting their way and sidestepping the democratic process to shut down legitimate providers,” Hermes said.
According to Americans for Forfeiture Reform, the raids appeared to be “smash and grab” operations, where businesses which are legal under state law have their cash, inventory, computers, bank accounts, and other property violently seized by federal agencies who directly profit from those seizures.
“Worse, since these seizures can happen prior to any criminal charges being filed, victims are often unable to obtain paid representation by an attorney,” Eapen Thampy wrote at the AFR site.
The federal warrants were sealed, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Helena.