U.S. Attorney Said Montana Medical Pot Growers Wouldn't Be Prosecuted -- Now They're Facing Life in Prison
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He may not know, but I do. Let me explain it to him. If notices had been sent, there’d be nobody for Cotter to put in jail.
As a matter of basic fairness, it’s difficult to see how Holder, or the president, can approve of the way in which Cotter and his colleagues at the DEA, ATF and other agencies went about the wholesale imprisoning of medical growers with such broad action.
Perhaps, then, Cotter’s recent airing of his opinion about the efficacy of marijuana as medicine (he states no scientific basis for his claim) can be viewed as a long-awaited missing piece of a puzzle: a motive for what he and his colleagues did. None of us who watched the drama unfold, with the dramatic raids, the emptying out of greenhouses by men wearing oxygen tanks and masks and snorkels, quite understood why the feds were being so heavy-handed, why Cotter was so righteously obsessed with bringing people down and making such a showing, so disdainful of states’ rights, and so defiant of Eric Holder’s guidance. Now that he’s aired his views, we understand: He sees marijuana providers as nothing more than drug dealers, by definition. And he is not about to waste his time following guidance from an attorney general or president who thinks otherwise.
And some of the government’s tactics in Montana were simply over the top. Charges were piled on high and thick, basic federal items like “possession with intent to distribute” or “conspiracy to manufacture,” carrying enormous penalties and designed to give the defendant little choice but to say “uncle,” and plea-bargain for a lesser sentence.
And one charge, used pervasively, was almost laughable if you know anything about Montana: “use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime,” by which was meant that a defendant kept a shotgun in his greenhouse, or in his truck that he used to transport seed and fertilizer, or that he carried a sidearm. Montanans commonly keep guns on their person, in their vehicles, at their homes, at their ranches, and at their place of business and especially if they have valuable wares on the premises. They require no permits. But the gun charge gave prosecutors powerful leverage because it carries mandatory prison time under federal rules.
The Ogden Memo actually made reference to guns, and it’s a good example of the questionable, circular logic employed by the U.S. attorney’s office in its interpretation of the Justice Department guidance. The memo has a section in which it advises prosecutors on how to distinguish between legal medical marijuana activity, on the one hand, and illegal federal drug running, on the other. Look for certain things, Ogden wrote, which will serve as an indication that the activity taking place is not kosher. One of these is “the presence of illegal firearms.” But again, the firearms in these cases were only illegal under federal drug enforcement statutes. Montana’s state medical marijuana law made no reference to firearms.
The Ogden Memo also mentioned “the presence of large amounts of cash” as a possible indicator that “trafficking” as opposed to “caregiving” might be afoot. The greenhouses in Montana, when raided, had large amounts of cash around, something that Cotter says is evidence of nefariousness (no allegation has ever been made that the growers were not paying taxes). But the cash was there for a simple reason: banks, too, were threatened by the feds. And so they refused to take deposits from medical marijuana caregivers. Many growers had opened accounts in the early years of the program, but the funds later were returned to them and the accounts closed.