BUTTE – Recent raids by federal and local authorities on medical pot businesses in Montana does not mean the Obama administration has abandoned its policy of leaving legitimate medical marijuana patients and providers alone, the U.S. Attorney for Montana says.
“The policies of the Department of Justice have not changed,” Mike Cotter told a gathering of 60 lawyers at a meeting of the State Bar of Montana on Friday.
With guns drawn, federal agents raided medical marijuana operations across Montana on Monday.
The 26 search warrants and four civil seizure warrants executed as part of an 18-month investigation into large-scale trafficking and tax evasion were unsealed on Tuesday.
Montana voters in 2004 approved a medical marijuana law that allows patients with serious illnesses to use marijuana, and for caregivers to provide it and grow it. In all, 15 states and the District of Columbia approved measures making medical marijuana legal.
On a federal level, however, marijuana is an illegal substance. But in October 2009, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden in a memo said federal officials would not prosecute medical marijuana users who comply with state laws.
But Cotter said Friday that doesn’t mean illegal pot growers can game the system.
“When the Attorney General visited here in February, he stated illegal sale of marijuana under the guise of medical marijuana will be prosecuted,” Cotter said, the Montana Standard reported. “That is the policy.”
Some contend that is what has been happening in Montana with some 28,000 registered medical marijuana users.
And Montana lawmakers have been considering an outright repeal of the state’s medical marijuana law. They say the boom in patients, providers and pot shops has gone beyond the intention of the law approved by voters.
Attorneys at the meeting questioned Cotter on whether they could lose their legal licenses if they offered advice to people growing marijuana.
“I would give them a copy of the Ogden memo and say ‘I am advising you that no state can authorize violation of federal law,'” Betsy Brandborg, counsel for the State Bar of Montana, told them.
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