[Updated 2:04 p.m. MST]
Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement from around Bozeman, Montana are raiding one of the battleground state’s largest medical cannabis providers this morning.
Witnesses at the raid at Montana Buds in Four Corners, MT report six members of law enforcement taking items out of the dispensary and placing them in a storage trailer. One women was seen hand-cuffed and sitting on the sidewalk.
“I have no idea why they are being attacked, [owner] Chuck has always been a great neighbor,” said Four Corners metalworking business owner Mike Winters.
A DEA agent on the scene declined to comment, stating “this is now a federal investigation.”
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DEA agent asks Cannabis Now Magazine to leave ongoing raid.
Montana voters enacted Initiative 148 in 2004, decriminalizing medical cannabis, including small, personal grows, starting a seven-year industry expansion through 2011. State laws deeply cut back the scope of the industry, beginning that year.
Activists are gathering signatures for an initiative to protect lawful access to medical cannabis in retail stores.
The federal government is generally standing down in the face of ongoing medical and adult-use legalization. The Department of Justice is under guidance from the White House to focus its limited resources away from state-legal cannabis activity. The Department of Justice recently gave up its pursuit of two of California’s most well-known medical cannabis operators, Lynnette Shaw, and Harborside Health Center of Oakland.
Neither the DEA nor Montana Buds immediately returned request for comment. All Montana Buds statewide are closed, but have not been raided.
As the hours passed, DEA agents cut down cannabis plants located near the retail store, and expanded their search to include other buildings, and requested additional warrants. DEA agents interviewed neighbors about ties to hard drugs like cocaine and heroin witnesses said.
One neighbor replied, “they run a clean operation”, witnesses said.
By noon, several members of the community gathered in a crowd. “This is crazy,” said one local Montana medical cannabis provider. “It makes me sick to my stomach.”
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Montana Buds employee being escorted out of dispensary by law enforcement.
Montana Buds is a large provider in the state, according to Kate Cholewa, lobbyist for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. She could not comment on the company’s reputation, and the business is not a member of MCIA.
She said whether or not the business was following state law – either instance is cause for better state rules. The MCIA is about half-way to collecting enough signatures to put a dispensary initiative on the November ballot.
“We have a problematic law. It’s really not functional at all,” she said. “If it’s bad state laws or bad actors — it doesn’t matter. We need an initiative in place so we have clear laws so people can follow them in Montana with licenses and inspections.”
Paid signature gatherers have fanned out across the state to complete petitions in support of Initiative 182. About 34,000 raw signatures will be filed by the deadline, June 17, she said.
“We just need people to sign the petitions and show up to vote in November,” Cholewa said.
Attorney Chris Lindsey with the Montana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws also agreed the state needs modern cannabis regulations now – by popular vote or through the legislature.
“We do not yet know what the basis is for the law enforcement activity, and so we are not in a position to speculate. What we can say, is the best way to minimize law enforcement activity against marijuana-related businesses is through a meaningful regulatory system. Montana’s system is practically non-existent and falls short of practically any standard. Montanans may soon be in a position to change that, whether its through the voter initiative process currently underway, or through the state legislature next year. Either way, we hope Montana can significantly improve the current law.”
In other news, MCIA has appealed the February Montana State Supreme Court verdict to the Supreme Court of the United States, Cholewa said. SCOTUS can either dismiss the appeal, agree to hear it, or delay a decision until after their June recess, she said. If SCOTUS agrees to hear the appeal or delay it, patients in Montana can motion to stay the Aug. 31 shutdown of the industry, pending SCOTUS review.
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