Pubdate: Tue, 27 Mar 2012
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2012 Missoulian
Author: Gwen Florio, Missoulian


MISSOULA - Evan Corum of Whitefish got six months in federal prison 
and another six of house arrest after federal agents busted his 
medical marijuana operation last year.

Michael Kassner of Kalispell got a year and a day for his involvement 
in another medical cannabis case. So did Tyler Roe.

Jonathan Janetski, charged along with Kassner and Roe, is looking at 
up to three years in prison, according to his lawyer, Todd Glazier of 
Kalispell. But, he says:

Janetski didn't grow marijuana.

He didn't sell it.

He was the landlord.

"He has no criminal history," Glazier said. "He just rented to some people."

To the best of Glazier's knowledge, Janetski is the only landlord 
charged as the result of two rounds of federal search warrants 
executed on medical marijuana operations in Montana last year. 
Glazier said Janetski's experience offers a cautionary tale to others 
who saw medical marijuana businesses as a welcome port in 
recession-tossed real estate seas.

"I was hoping to create some awareness for the landlords out there," he said.


Sam Caras, of Caras Property Management in Missoula, said his firm no 
longer rents to medical marijuana businesses.

"Our attorneys have said you could possibly get charged, and so on 
and so forth," he said.

Janetski, along with Kassner and Tyler Roe, was charged with 
conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, conspiracy to distribute 
marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. 
Conviction on each charge carries a minimum term of five years in 
prison and up to 40 years, fines of up to $5 million and at least 
four years' supervised release.

Like Corum - who pleaded guilty to a single count of money laundering 
- - all three men made plea agreements. Kassner and Roe each pleaded 
guilty to conspiracy to manufacture.

Expected sentence

Janetski is scheduled to be sentenced April 19 on a charge of 
maintaining drug-involved premises. Although that carries a maximum 
penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, along with three 
years' supervised release, Glazier said the sentencing guidelines 
mean his client is likely looking at a recommendation of 30 to 36 
months in federal prison.

"He would end up ... serving more time than the actual people who 
manufactured the marijuana," Glazier said.

Janetski - like many other businesspeople around Montana during the 
brief period the medical marijuana industry flourished here - thought 
that his tenants' work, and hence his renting to them, was perfectly 
legal under state law, Glazier said.

The raids served notice otherwise.

Growers cried foul, citing state law legalizing the medical use of 
marijuana and a 2009 federal memo that seemed to downgrade marijuana 
as a priority. But Montana U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter wrote to 
state legislative leaders after the first round of raids last spring 
that "growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity 
. is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws that 
purport to permit such activities."

California example

William Ruzzamenti, formerly of the federal Drug Enforcement 
Administration, said growers in California made the same assumptions 
about legality as those in Montana.

They thought "that state law somehow trumped the federal law, and 
that as long as their renters were complying with state law, they 
really didn't need to worry about federal law. That's wrong," said 
Ruzzamenti, who now heads the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area 
(HIDTA) Task Force in California's Central Valley.

But the California growers and dispensary owners got a bit of a break 
when authorities there sent out warning notices before conducting raids.

"We advise them that this is a violation of federal law and if you 
don't take some kind of action, your property is in fact subject to 
forfeiture," Ruzzamenti said. "You'd be amazed ... ever since the 
letters have gone out, we've got a minimum of 90 percent compliance 
with landlords."

In addition to evicting their marijuana-growing tenants, he said, 
landlords also are removing plants, he said.

It's proved a cheaper and more efficient strategy than raids, he 
said. "It's very successful, very effective. It's changed the whole dynamic."

No such letters were sent in Montana, something that riles John 
Masterson, head of Montana NORML (National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws).

"When responsible businesspeople, ethical entrepreneurs, attempt to 
blaze a new frontier into a legal business under state laws and find 
themselves subject to serious federal criminal charges that will 
result in the deprivation of liberty and property," he said, "... it 
sure feels like a travesty."
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