John Masterson from Montana NORML is live-blogging news of DEA/FBI/ATF raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana, here. The raids appear to be “smash ‘n grab” raids, where businesses legal under state law have their cash, inventory, computers, bank accounts, and other property violently seized by federal agencies who will directly profit from these seizures. Worse, since these seizures can happen prior to any criminal charges being filed, victims are often unable to obtain paid representation by an attorney.
Theoretically, federal law allows the judge to appoint counsel for a victim under certain circumstances, a reform enacted under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Act (CAFRA) of 2000. However, in the 11 years since the passage of those reforms, many of the provisions allowing for appointed counsel have yet to be implemented.
Victims who have had property seized from them are advised to know their rights, remain silent until they can speak to an attorney, and request a receipt for all property taken. We are particularly interested in any civil forfeiture claims filed in state or federal court. If you’d like to share your story with us or are looking for a media contact, you can email me at Eapen@ForfeitureReform.com or contact us at 573-673-5351 during normal business hours.
Attorneys looking for information on defending clients from property seizures are advised to be aware of the briefs, casebooks, and other materials available through our friends at Forfeiture Endangers American Rights Foundation (click on “Gideon Project”).
UPDATE: From Families and Patients United, a non-profit marijuana advocacy group:
· At least seven (and possibly more) separate operations, some functioning in multiple locations, were raided today. This includes grow and/or dispensing facilities in Billings, Bozeman, Belgrade, Helena, Missoula, Great Falls and Kalispell. Some in other towns may have received “visits”
· The raids appear to have involved federal agencies solely or at least primarily. Agencies involved include DEA, FBI, ATF, and immigration-focused agencies.
· Plants and medicine were destroyed or confiscated at all locations. Computers and other equipment (including lights and ballasts) were taken in most or all locations.
· Almost no one was arrested. (Those who were arrested involved things like speeding ticket warrants and other non-cannabis-related issues.)
· But most everyone was terrorized in one way or another, it seems. Disabled patients working at some of the facilities were thrown to the ground as if they were dangerous, armed criminals; people everywhere were kept handcuffed while searches and confiscations occurred. We are still trying to piece together accurate information about what happened and about what news media are being told (and not being told) by the federal agencies and other more local sources. Just as the political situation in the capitol building has been remarkably fluid all winter long, the law enforcement situation in Montana at the moment appears ever-changing. We will do our best to keep you informed of what we know. Check our Facebook page for news reports updated regularly, especially tomorrow morning. In the meantime, in case raids of this sort might continue, here’s some advice relayed from one of Montana’s leading drug defense attorneys: “You are not obligated to answer any questions. You are not obligated to let anyone in without a warrant. You are not obligated to consent to any search. Even innocent questions like “Are you a caregiver?” or “Are you a patient?” are parts of an investigatory strategy and can and will be used against you in court. Once given, you cannot take back your answers. It might feel uncooperative to assert these rights, but it’s actually patriotic.