U.S. Attorney Said Montana Medical Pot Growers Wouldn't Be Prosecuted — Now They're Facing Life in Prison

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June 21, 2013

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In March of 2011, federal agents in hazmat suits – guns brandished and sirens blaring – raided dozens of marijuana greenhouses and dispensaries in Montana, and arrested citizens who were growing pot in accordance with the state’s medical marijuana law. It all happened without warning – unlike in California and other states where fair notice, and lead time, was given to folks so they could close up shop. The timing of the raids was highly suspicious. They took place on the very day – the very hour, in fact – that the Montana Legislature was holding a much-anticipated hearing on how to tweak the medical marijuana statute, so as to cut down on recreational use and sham prescriptions, and also to clarify several parts of the law that were ambiguous.

The top federal prosecutor in Montana – Mike Cotter, the U.S. attorney appointed by President Obama in 2009 –  then charged the growers, their greenhouse workers, their bookkeepers, some of their spouses, and even their landlords who had simply provided buildings to the growers with decades in prison and in some cases virtual life sentences, all under federal drug trafficking statutes.

Now Cotter is breaking his silence and speaking publicly, for the first time, about his two-year crusade to shutter the medical marijuana industry and put its practitioners behind bars, in many cases for life sentences. And he is mincing no words. He says that pot has no medical value at all, for anyone, and that if you think otherwise, you are a sucker who has been duped “by slick Madison Avenue marketing” employed by pot dealers. He says pot is a dangerous drug and growing it is a federal crime that must be punished.

The opposite of what doctors have long believed about the benefits of marijuana for many patients, these comments go a long way in explaining much of what happened in Montana over the last two years.

When Cotter charged these citizens in 2011, he gave no credence to a very basic protest that they all made: they’d been assured in writing, by Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, that they could grow medical marijuana and the feds wouldn’t prosecute them.

The defendants pointed to dozens of statements made by Holder and even the president, and specifically the now-infamous Ogden Memo. This was a publicly released document in 2009 document, written by David Ogden, Eric Holder’s deputy, that instructed federal law enforcement officers nationwide to leave medical marijuana growers alone as long as they were abiding by state law. This memo was reported in the national press, and local papers too, as a virtual ceding of jurisdiction by the federal government. “U.S. Won’t Prosecute in States that Have Medical Marijuana ,” heralded a New York Times headline.

It’s not a stretch to assume that some of these growers made some infractions of state law. But others went out of their way to play by the rules. Take Tom Daubert, age 60, charged by Cotter with 80 years in prison. I was the senior counsel to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and worked with Daubert on occasion because he was not only a provider of medical cannabis but also the lobbyist for the industry. He would stop in to meet with the governor’s staff every so often to get our opinion of the things he was lobbying for, notably a tightening and clarifying of the very vaguely written law (it came to life via a ballot measure, not by legislation) so that people would have a stronger idea of what they could do legally.

This article originally appeared on: AlterNet