Federal Time for Medical Marijuana Operations for Montana Men

In the latest in a growing rift between state medical marijuana laws and federal drug enforcement, three Montana men were recently sentenced to federal prison time for their roles in the approved state medical marijuana program. While this isn’t the only case pending, it provides a good example into how the feds are hoping to squash voter-approved medical marijuana outfits across the country.

Joshua Schultz ran Natural Medicine, out of Great Falls. There he acted as a broker, buying and selling marijuana to registered medical marijuana patients. Jason Burns and Jesse Leland opened Queen City Caregivers LLC which grew medical grade marijuana for patients.

All three were registered with the Secretary of State’s office according to Montana law and maintained records on the patients they provided for. Queen City Caregivers even allowed law enforcement to inspect their operations, which they noted were in compliance with state laws.

All three men expected to be left alone by federal enforcement following the issuance of the “Ogden Memo”, which said those operations that were running in compliance with state medical marijuana laws would be a low priority for federal enforcement. Unfortunately, as we know now, “low priority” seems to be a relative term and one that is completely changeable on the whims of the federal government.

In March, 2011, the feds carried out raids all over Montana. All three men were arrested and their businesses seized. Each faced about 25 federal charges including things like manufacturing and distributing marijuana, and money laundering.

Their charges had them facing anywhere from 5 to 40 years in prison, this after having some of the charges dropped in a plea negotiation. Leland pleaded guilty to manufacturing marijuana, Burns pleaded guilty to growing marijuana and money laundering, and Schultz pleaded guilty to manufacturing marijuana. All agreed to not appeal their sentences in exchange for all other charges being dropped.

All three were facing mandatory minimum sentences. Fortunately for them, federal judges can depart from these “mandatory” sentences. Federal prosecutors recommended a range of 24 to 30 months on all three cases. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles Lovell, however, used his discretion to further lower the sentence, calling for one year in federal prison for each man.

At sentencing, Judge Lovell said, “The sentencing range that established the guidelines has been in the judgment of the court, excessive for utilization in this particular case under what I find to be very unusual circumstances. While it is true that the law was violated and while it is true that the computation set forward by the U.S. Probation Office complies with the guidelines in an ordinary case, this is not an ordinary case as to each of the three defendants.”

Whether you believe marijuana should be completely legalized or if you are approved for using it in one state and arrested in another, you could face serious penalties for violating state and/or federal marijuana laws. Let us put you in touch with a local defense attorney if you are facing such charges now.

About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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