Prosecutors Argue State Law is Irrelevant in Medical Marijuana Case

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Federal prosecutors pursuing drug charges against two medical marijuana operators have asked a judge to bar from the proceedings any mention of medical uses of the drug or state laws regulating it.

If U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen rules in favor of the request, it would be a setback for the operators who say their compliance with Montana law should protect them from prosecution.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Joe Thaggard argues state law is irrelevant to the federal charges against Chris Williams and Chris Lindsey, the Independent Record reported.

“The intertwined subjects of medical marijuana, Montana law, and medical necessity have no relevance to determining whether the government has proven the crimes charged in the indictment,” Thaggard wrote in a legal brief. “Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law . and can’t be dispensed under a prescription.”

But Williams and Lindsey say they followed state laws regulating medical marijuana distribution. They were two of the owners of the now-defunct Montana Cannabis, one of the businesses raided in a March 2011 crackdown on large pot operations across the state.

Federal defense attorney Michael Donahoe said Williams and Lindsey only entered the medical marijuana business because of a 2009 Justice Department memo that has been interpreted as saying prosecutors would not pursue charges against individuals who complied with state law.

It would be wrong to prevent Lindsey and Williams from mounting a defense that presents the memo and state law as evidence, Donahoe told Christensen in a hearing Thursday.

“When those remarks were made, the medical marijuana business became a business,” Donahoe said. “People came together to engage in the enterprise to cultivate medical marijuana . and that was entrapment of the defendants. Those representations were made, individuals relied on them, and they engaged in the activity.”

Another Montana judge, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, already has ruled that when state medical marijuana law conflicts with the federal Controlled Substances Act, the federal law prohibiting the manufacture and distribution of marijuana prevails.

But federal prosecutors in this case look to prevent a jury from even hearing mention of state medical marijuana laws.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office previously made a similar request to ban any mention of state laws while prosecuting a separate case involving another Montana Cannabis co-owner, Richard Flor. But Flor, his wife and his son made plea deals before U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell could rule on the request.

A fourth co-owner, Tom Daubert, also has made a plea deal with prosecutors.

Christensen did not make an immediate ruling Thursday. A jury trial is scheduled for Sept. 23.

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