Pubdate: Sat, 31 Aug 2013
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2013 Associated Press


(AP) - A new federal marijuana policy doesn't undermine a recently 
completed three-year crackdown on large Montana providers by the U.S. 
attorney's office, and authorities will still be able to prosecute 
future cases, U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said Friday.

The Justice Department said Thursday it will allow states to regulate 
marijuana as long as they enforce strict laws to keep it away from 
children, the black market and federal property. Marijuana remains an 
illegal drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, but 
Washington and Colorado, which have legalized its recreational use, 
will be allowed to establish their own regulations in producing, 
possessing and taxing the drug, the federal agency said.

The new policy comes three months after Cotter's office wrapped up 
its largest-ever drug-trafficking investigation, with 33 marijuana 
provider convictions. That, plus a strict 2011 overhaul of the 
state's medical marijuana law - which is being challenged in court - 
has caused the demise of a once-booming Montana medical marijuana industry.

Cotter said the new policy still emphasizes enforcement of the 
Controlled Substances Act, and those convicted in the Montana 
crackdown weren't following state laws.

"I don't think it would have changed how we conducted business," he said.

When marijuana providers operate outside of the policy, Cotter said 
his office will still prosecute those cases.

"I think we have to see how it evolves over time," he said. "It's not 
going to affect the way we do business here in Montana."

Cotter said one possible consequence of legalized marijuana in 
Colorado and Washington will be increased trafficking into the state.

"I believe that there will be opportunities for organized crime to 
get into the marijuana business and I have a sense that what we will 
see will be an increase of marijuana traffic from those states into 
Montana," he said.

Since the 2011 federal raids of major Montana medical marijuana 
providers, followed by the state law restricting the use and sale of 
the drug, the number of users and providers has plummeted. Medical 
marijuana providers in the state went from 4,848 in 2011 to 291 in 
July, while the number of registered users has gone from more than 
30,000 to just 7,122, according to the state Department of Public 
Health and Human Services.

Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project 
in Montana, called the new policy an important milestone for 
regulated access to marijuana and reflects the federal government's 
realization it has more important things to do than undermine 
voter-enacted laws.

"It is past time that Montana develop a regulatory system that 
functions much like those of other well-regulated states, instead of 
expecting that only seriously ill patients can or should grow medical 
marijuana for themselves," he said in an email to The Associated Press.

Lindsey also was one of the 33 medical marijuana providers convicted 
in Cotter's crackdown.

An East Helena woman has filed a proposed 2014 ballot initiative to 
legalize the recreational use of marijuana similar to those that 
passed last year in Washington and Colorado. The Montana secretary of 
state's office has cleared the proposed measure for signature gathering.

A similar effort in 2012 failed to gather enough signatures by the 
filing deadline.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom