Not so long ago Montana was sizzling with a vibrant, developing medical marijuana industry. Today, more than two dozen people have been indicted, so far, and the U.S. Attorney promises that prosecutions will continue. The statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office is the agency's first since a single press release was sent the day after the March 14, 2011, raids on 26 homes, offices and businesses that effectively stymied the state's once-booming medical marijuana trade. At that time federal prosecutors said the warrants were part of a long-running investigation into drug trafficking. Perhaps the connection to medical marijuana was just . . .coincident?
The U.S. attorney released his statement as members of a Miles City family of medical marijuana providers became the 10th, 11th and 12th people involved in the raids to be sentenced. Richard Flor ran the operation and was a co-founder of Montana Cannabis, while his wife Sherry kept the books and his son Justin tended the plants and ran the operation's Billings dispensary. U.S. Judge Charles Lovell sentenced the men to five years each in prison, while Sherry Flor was sentenced to two years. Those are the harshest sentences of the dozen, whose prison terms have ranged from six months to two years.
The Flors had asked for leniency, arguing that they were following the state's medical marijuana law. They believed they were operating with the blessing of the federal government, after a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice memo said federal prosecutors would not pursue people who were in strict compliance with state medical marijuana laws. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard said that memo made clear that those involved in medical marijuana had to be in "clear and unambiguous compliance" with state laws, and operators like the Flors were not. Had there been a trial, hopefully that would be the question for the jury, IF the judge allowed the jury to hear about state medical marijuana laws. Often in federal court that is held to be irrelevant.
It's not clear how many more medical marijuana providers will be targeted in the investigations, but the effect is obvious. The number of registered users and providers has plummeted, and many providers have either shuttered their doors or gone underground in fear that they will be next. The state Legislature followed the raids with a law that bans commercial sales of medical marijuana, but that portion of the new law is on hold pending a court challenge.
HMJ will let you know which way this unfolding story goes. Learn more here.
[image: Google images Montana state flag]
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