Federal Crackdown Busts Montana's MMJ Industry

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  Federal Crackdown Busts Montana's MMJ Industry

Posted by CN Staff on May 12, 2013 at 06:40:07 PT
By The Associated Press 
Source: Billings Gazette 

Helena -- If American society's tolerance for marijuana is now growing, then what happened in Montana illustrates just what can happen when the government decides things have gone too far. Pot advocates were running caravans, helping hundreds of residents in a day get medical marijuana user cards. Some doctors who conducted cursory exams on scores of people were fined. As the number of users quickly grew, so did a retail industry that led some to dub the state "Big High Country."Today, thousands of medical pot providers have gone out of business, and a health department survey showed that the number of registered users have fallen to less than a quarter of their 2011 numbers.
The drop was driven in part by a tougher 2011 law on medical marijuana use and distribution. But more than anything, marijuana advocates say, the demise of the once-booming medical pot industry was the result of the largest federal drug-trafficking investigation in the state's industry.The three-year investigation by the U.S. attorney's office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies wrapped up last week when the last of 33 convicted defendants was sentenced. That allowed its architect, U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter, to speak publicly for the first time on the crackdown."For a long time, we were hearing complaints from local law enforcement and from citizens ... that they were tired of marijuana and they were tired of it next to schools, to churches, people smoking it openly on the streets," Cotter said in an interview with The Associated Press."It was just something that had to be done," he said. "And the result of doing it the way that we did, it was a strong statement that marijuana wasn't going to be tolerated in Montana."Cotter said he believes he is on the right side of history, regardless of what is happening in the country. Last fall, voters in Colorado and Washington state passed laws to legalize recreational pot use, and a Pew Research Center poll released last month found 52 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal.The Justice Department has yet to decide whether to sue in federal court to block Colorado and Washington's laws under the legal argument that federal laws outlawing any use, possession or distribution of marijuana prevail over state laws.In Montana, what started out as a system to provide marijuana to those with health problems turned the state into a source for drug trafficking, Cotter said. The industry had ballooned so much and so quickly that drug traffickers were operating under the guise of medicinal caregivers, and the pot was being sent to users in New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado and other states, he said.Now, marijuana is still in Montana, but it's manageable, he said.The investigations were split geographically into three parts: Operation Smokejumper, Operation Weed Be Gone and Operation Noxious Weed. They targeted medical marijuana providers dealing in more than 100 plants and came away with 34 indictments, from a longtime state lobbyist to a former University of Montana quarterback.Most of those arrested argued at first that they were following the state's medical marijuana law. When federal prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard, successfully squelched that argument in court, all but three of the providers made plea deals.The federal Controlled Substances Act, which bans any distribution or use of marijuana, trumps state law, Thaggard said. Besides, the investigation found that none of the defendants was following state law, he added."I think that we were confident that if we had to go down that road, we would show just how out of compliance these people were," Thaggard said.The final scorecard: 33 convictions. Thirty-one made plea deals, two went to trial and lost and the case against the accountant of a provider was dismissed.Federal prosecutors in other states watched closely as the probe unfolded in Montana, and was widely seen as a success and possibly a model for others, Cotter said."Speaking through enforcement action does have the deterrent effect that is needed," Cotter said. "It had the effect that we were looking for, and that was to deter the trafficking of marijuana."Montana Cannabis Information Association spokesman and Marijuana Policy Project lobbyist Chris Lindsey — who also was one of the 33 providers convicted in the probe — agreed the federal investigation was the main driver in changing the shape of the industry.But a federal crackdown won't stem the tide of the public will, he said.Montana residents are increasingly in favor of improving the medical marijuana laws so there is better regulation and better access for those who need it, Lindsey said. "In Montana, it seems our options have only been the wild, wild West or no activity at all. Ultimately, we will be in the middle," Lindsey said.Cotter and DEA Agent in Charge Brady MacKay, who led much of the investigation, dispute that medical marijuana is beneficial for the seriously ill. They say patients who need the relief that marijuana provides should get it from Marinol, a prescription drug that contains some of the properties of marijuana."I think it's Madison Avenue marketing, the person who dreamed up tying medical and marijuana together," Cotter said. "It's a powerful marketing tool. But the fact of the matter remains that marijuana is a dangerous drug and it's harmful to people," Cotter said.Source: Billings Gazette, The (MT)Published: May 12, 2013Copyright: 2013 The Billings GazetteContact: speakup billingsgazette.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives 

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Comment #6 posted by Swazi-X on May 12, 2013 at 13:24:07 PT

U.S. Attorney Cotter Is A Liar.
And a fool if he thinks anyone believes the nonsense that spews from his mouth about cannabis. Decades of honest science proves this man is a liar, assuming he's even intelligent enough to understand moderately complex ideas. I won't make that assumption.Why would we listen to anyone's opinion on cannabis who's job is gone if the truth were accepted about cannabis?These dishonest, deceptive, duplicitous clowns only want to preserve the status-quo and they're amazingly stupid enough to use the same old tired lies. Maybe the gun and badge has convinced them whatever they say is true, or else? Maybe they've had experience showing how "right" they are with their gun to someone's head? The only way forward is to completely de-fund the mad dog Nixon created in the D.E.A. No free country should have such an unregulated, massively oppressive, unaccountable and uncontrolled military presence assaulting citizens and stealing with impunity. If this situation were in a country in Africa, the D.E.A. would be listed as a Terrorist Organization and we'd be funding anyone fighting against them. May everyone involved in supporting this brutal, senseless oppression against users of a plant contract terminal cancer and have the experience of medical torture with chemicals (chemo) and nuclear radiation repeatedly until they pass a painful, premature death. May each and every one of them righteously refuse to use the miracle plant they're so violently against, no matter what cure or ease it will bring them at the end.That's something I don't wish on anyone. Usually.
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Comment #5 posted by kaptinemo on May 12, 2013 at 09:34:12 PT:

'Whistling past the graveyard'
An old, old expression that suits what the Feds and their local prohib allies are doing. Despite the brave noises, they are indeed hearing Hemingway's famous 'bell' that's 'tolling' for the end of prohibition. With over half of Americans wanting legal cannabis (once more!) the fact remains that History is abandoning the prohibs.As time goes on and the prohibs lose ground, they'll get nuttier...and more violent. For they know that re-legalization is only the beginning.Drug prohibition was the foundation for the rise of the post-9/11 police/security state, and all the unConstitutional baggage that came with it. The dismantling of that police/security state commences when prohibition ends, for the justification of 'national security' has been too badly over-used to ever warrant such use again. Too much has happened, too many abuses of the citizen's rights, liberties and lives - not to mention unlawful deaths of their paymasters by police - have taken place for there not to be an accounting. The end of drug prohibition will signal the end for the need for a paramilitarized police force. They will no longer need all the military hardware they have been purchasing with our taxpayer dollars. No more champagne and caviar; it's back to kibble. And that's what LE fears the most. 
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Comment #4 posted by runruff on May 12, 2013 at 09:04:52 PT

And another thing!
"I am sure I am coming down on the right side of history here." Lawyers and their forked tongues. Does he refer to forty two years of post Nixon history or 5,000 years of recorded human history. It is important to make a distinction here.As for my first post this morning; I read it with my glasses on and..."Squeeze a balloon on one end it enlarges on the other." is how it should "next years referendum I assuming the good folks in the Awake State of Montana, will legalize the Super-Plant next year. Remember the Monty Python movie, "Search for the Holy Grail"? The black knight who was whittled down limb by limb yet still remained defiant? Good metaphor for the fed trying to defend prohibition. Since they have no strategy and do not know when they are beat, they step in on pile after another and go aroung with stink on their shoes.See you at the pot shop!
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on May 12, 2013 at 08:08:48 PT:

The Devil's Advocate Ploy...and the Feds 
...are falling for it.A long time ago, a novelist named Taylor Caldwell predicted the US government would turn tyrannical, and asked how can the people rise up when all seems lost. The answer was that real patriots would enter the organs of government and make things even worse, even more tyrannical, to finally push the till-then complacent citizens into becoming angry revolutionaries with no recourse but to overthrow the government. The novel she wrote about that process was titled "The Devil's Advocate' after a famous Scottish tale about the Devil having been captured and needing a lawyer, who then turned the tables on Ol' Nick and in the process of 'defending' him made him out to be the monster he was, assuring conviction.Well, Uncle is (knowingly or not) in the position of both the Devil and the Devil's advocate, and he's making full-on legalization the only way this issue will be settled. MMJ has served its' purpose publicity-wise by showing that cannabis does indeed have medicinal value, but so long as Uncle can use all his (unchallenged in court) lies against it, and the force those lies provide cover for using, he will continue to molest MMJ providers and recipients. Re-legalization is proving the only way to keep the Fed bloodsuckers from sinking their fangs into the innocent. The Fed vampires have backed off in WA and CO for exactly that reason. It should be clear by now to anyone with three brain cells to click together that this is the next step...and that we MUST take it.  
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Comment #2 posted by Sam Adams on May 12, 2013 at 07:55:37 PT

"something has to be done"
yes, exactly - move to Colorado! There is a number looming out there - a dollar amount, probably in the hundreds of millions, or billions.It's the net amount of money that will permanently move out of Montana's economy into Colorado's. Over the next X number of years during which cannabis is legal in CO and banned in Montana.The boom times are over for this stage of US history. You can already see what's happening, the "knowledge economy" is converging around a handful of metropolitan areas in the US. Colorado and Denver just happens to be one of those centers. Areas that don't make the cut into this economy are going to be left out in the cold - lower salaries, higher unemployment, lower quality of life.Montana is going to regress toward the what the Dakotas are today. A post-Soviet-like rural backwater, with no jobs, opportunity, or young people. Just a bunch of stubborn codgers and corrupt govt. workers sitting around watching their property value sink to zero.

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Comment #1 posted by runruff on May 12, 2013 at 07:44:15 PT

Squeeze a ballon on one it enlarges on the other.
Next to Cotter's sheepskin, on his wall, he should hang his Biggest Buffon award.He does not have what they call "Consequential Thinking" His head is full of antiquated Latin terms, and no commonsense.He is inadvertently pushing for full legalization in Montana. If there is one thing I know about Montanan, they ain't fed lovers. His head is molding in that proverbial dark place if he thinks most Montanans see things his way.Thanks Cotter you dumb, think you know it all, prissy fool!
I am as sure that you have added more votes to next years referendum as I am that you feed from a public trough. See you at the pot shop!
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