HELENA — Two medical marijuana providers are suing the government over what they are calling unconstitutional raids of their Montana businesses as federal prosecutors threaten to crack down on medical pot operations across the nation.
The owners of Montana Caregivers Association and MCM Caregivers claim the March 14 raids exceeded the federal government's authority, pre-empted Montana's medical marijuana law and violated the pot providers' civil rights.
In their lawsuit against the government, the Department of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney for Montana Michael Cotter filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Missoula, the plaintiffs claim the aim is to shut down the medical pot industry.
"The federal government has made clear its intent to threaten and eventually eliminate any business or enterprise related to the medical use of marijuana," Christopher Williams of the Montana Caregivers Association and Randy Leibenguth of MCM Caregivers say in the lawsuit.
The Department of Justice did not have an immediate comment when contacted Wednesday. Also, Cotter's office did not comment on the lawsuit.
Federal agents executed 26 search warrants against pot businesses in Montana on March 14, seizing drugs, cash, weapons and vehicles in what Cotter said part of a drug-trafficking investigation. No charges have been filed and Cotter's office has since refused to comment on the investigation.
Since then, agents have raided two Washington state dispensaries and federal prosecutors have sent letters of warning to leaders in California, Colorado, Montana and Rhode Island.
Cotter's warning letter to Montana legislative leaders said the Department of Justice considers it a "core priority" to prosecute anybody involved in the trade of any illegal drugs. But, the letter added, the department would not pursue prosecution of seriously ill individuals who follow state law in using medical marijuana
That and similar letters issued by Cotter's counterparts has caused several states to reassess their laws. Washington's governor recently vetoed a law to create licensed dispensaries. New Jersey has asked for guidance from the Department of Justice before implementing its new law.
Montana lawmakers passed a bill that would effectively ban marijuana businesses by making it illegal for businesses to charge for marijuana and limiting the number of patients per provider.
Medical marijuana advocates have organized protests and are planning a petition drive in which they hope to gather enough signatures to block the bill from becoming law.
Now at least two of those pot businesses are taking their fight to the federal government. Williams and Leibenguth claim that because the U.S. Constitution does not expressly grant the government powers over medical marijuana, the government violated the 10th Amendment to overrule Montana's medical marijuana laws.
The 10th Amendment says powers not delegated to the U.S. or prohibited by the Constitution are reserved to the states. Current Montana law says a marijuana provider can't be arrested, prosecuted or penalized if they do not exceed the amount of pot they are allowed to keep per patient.
The plaintiffs are asking Judge Donald Molloy to declare the raids unconstitutional and prevent the government from threatening, interfering or prosecuting them for activities allowed under state law.
They are also asking to be compensated for damages, but do not specify an amount.
The providers' attorney, Timothy Baldwin of Kalispell, did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.
May 11, 2011