The federal government caused quite a stir last year when it launched a coordinated attack on medical cannabis dispensaries and related businesses in the western U.S., conducting a series of raids that put the marijuana industry on edge.
In addition to marijuana centers and cannabis cultivation operations in California, Oregon and Washington State, MMJ dispensaries in Montana wound up in the federal crosshairs as well.
Some dispensary owners in Montana were led away in handcuffs, facing the possibility of a long stint in prison and huge penalties. Many, however, were forced to close their dispensaries and simply watch from the sidelines as agents carried away their equipment and plants, leaving the possibility of a criminal indictment in the future.
So whatever happened to those individuals?
A fair share of business owners haven’t heard another peep from the government, while others have gotten off with relatively light sentences, at least when considering the maximum penalties for drug crimes. Instead of years – or even decades – in prison, those charged so far in connection with the Montana medical marijuana raids have received sentences of between six and 18 months in jail, according to the Missoulian.
Some observers say this shows that government is being “lenient” – not only in Montana but also in other states where dispensaries were targeted. Agents have conducted “nearly 200 SWAT-style raids” on cannabis dispensaries and other marijuana businesses across the country recently, leading to about 60 indictments, according to data from Americans for Safe Access.
That’s a relatively low number of indictments compared to the number of raids. But it’s not that simple.
For one, many of these individuals thought they were operating legitimate businesses under state laws. So any jail time at all, no matter how short, is devastating. Just as importantly, the MMJ professionals have taken severe financial hits, having to forfeit money – in some cases tens of thousands of dollars – in addition to their business assets and valuable inventory.
At the same time, it’s not just dispensary owners and high-profile medical marijuana businessmen who have been targeted. An employee of a dispensary in Washington State that was raided recently received a year in prison. Several other workers at the same dispensary – including the owner – were sentenced as well. So growers and lower-level employees could be subject to prosecution as well.
It remains to be seen what will happen to the dozens of other individuals swept up in the recent raids who are still awaiting sentencing. But, no matter the type of sentences handed down, the government is coercing lawmakers into backtracking on MMJ laws and scaring the industry into a period of contraction, experts say.
“The literal and figurative assault on medical marijuana patients currently underway by the Obama Administration is unprecedented in this country’s history, despite hollow proclamations to the contrary,” Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, said last week, when the pro-pot organization held a rally in San Francisco. “The intensity and breadth of the attacks has far surpassed anything we saw under the Bush Administration and has resulted in the roll-back of numerous local and state laws.”