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Montana US Attorney Says Raids No Change in Policy

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BUTTE – The raids this week on marijuana growing operations and shops 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 said Friday in Butte.

"The policies of the Department of Justice have not changed," Mike Cotter, Montana U.S. Attorney, told more than 60 lawyers gathered for a statewide meeting of the Montana bar.

Cotter's comments came during an all-day update on the status of Montana's medical marijuana law. The measure, approved by voters in 2004, made it legal for patients with terminal or serious illnesses to possess and use marijuana, as well as for caregivers to grow and provide it.

But since the measure was approved, many people have complained and numerous people have made a mockery of the law by faking medical conditions. And caregivers have sprung up statewide, some with thousands of patients.

This week federal officials served 26 search warrants on marijuana producers throughout the state, seizing cash and other items.

Cotter, in his comments, was referring to an October 2009 memo from Deputy Attorney General David Ogden in which he stated that federal officials would not put their efforts into cracking down on legitimate users of medical marijuana. The drug is still against federal law, but 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed measures making marijuana legal for medicinal use.

The Justice Department, however, stated clearly that marijuana remains illegal and it would crack down on growers and distributors who were abusing medical marijuana laws, said Cotter.

"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. "That is the policy."

But lawyers at the meeting peppered Cotter and two state officials with questions about how the federal policy affects them. They said it is clear that marijuana is illegal in the federal government's view, yet Montana state law allows its use.

Several questioned whether they could lose their legal licenses if they consulted people involved in marijuana production.

Betsy Brandborg, counsel for the State Bar of Montana, said lawyers are safe as long as they point out federal law while giving advice about Montana's medical marijuana statute. She brought up an example from Oregon in which a lawyer was grossly negligent and had his license suspended for 90 days, but still wasn't disbarred.

"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,' " Brandborg said.

But one member of the crowd asked Cotter if leasing property to a grower could constitute conspiracy to produce drugs, which Cotter wouldn't answer. Other lawyers questioned whether drafting contracts for business owners could also be construed as breaking federal law.

John Kauffman, a Bozeman lawyer, said U.S. history is rife with examples of lawyers using cases to test laws and medical marijuana should be no different.

"If (we) can't push the envelope to advocate change, then I think we're doing our professions a disservice," he said.


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Source: helenair.com
Author: Nick Gevock
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Copyright: helenair.com
Website: Montana US Attorney says raids no change in policy
 
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