Feds raid marijuana businesses

March 14, 2011

Andy Malby, Belgrade News

A chilly wind blew Monday afternoon as Randy Leibenguth watched federal agents haul away his life’s work. “It’s just retarded; it’s not even crazy,” he said. “I think they’re just trying to strong-arm us.”

Leibenguth’s medical marijuana grow operation and dispensary east of Belgrade was one of at least ten such operations raided by federal agents Monday in a move the feds wouldn’t talk about to the press.

Armed agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and other agencies stormed Leibenguth’s MCM, Inc., facility at 11 a.m., handcuffed the lone employee and proceeded to pack up everything in the building, Leibenguth said.

“They put my dispenser up against the wall and put her in handcuffs — scared the crap out of her,” he said. “They had guns drawn, the whole nine.”

The agents served a federal search warrant and began confiscating “anything associated with the controlled substance marijuana,” including product, tinctures, cannabis-spiked soda pop and related growing paraphernalia, he said.

“They’re literally tearing my grow rooms apart,” he said.

At 5 p.m. Monday, a large U-haul truck was parked behind the Dollar Drive business, half loaded with the accoutrements of Leibenguth’s trade. The ground between the truck and the warehouse was piled with hundreds of uprooted marijuana plants, their skunky odor drifting on the wind.

Leibenguth and his wife, Stephanie, stood in a parking lot outside the business, watching as 10 to 15 agents worked inside the building, periodically carrying something out to the U-haul or to other vehicles parked nearby. Leibenguth was not detained or arrested, but said agents read him his rights and told him he “cannot enter the premises.”

“They’ve left a lot of questions,” he said. “I’m really frustrated because how legitimate we were made us more vulnerable. Are we better off going into hiding? We gave up all the negative stuff in our lives to do this.”

Leibenguth speculated that the raids involved medical marijuana caregivers who provided product to other caregivers, as well as to their own patients, but said he didn’t know if that was the case. He said he had arrangements with other caregivers in the state but that under those circumstances, the caregivers were registered as patients of his.

Raids took place at the same time Monday at two other medical marijuana businesses in the Gallatin Valley and at least seven others in Montana, according to the Associated Press and other sources. In Gallatin County, Big Sky Patient Care near Four Corners was raided, as was a Bozeman-area purveyor called Outlaw Hills, whose address was not given.

A spokesman for the DEA did not answer a phone call seeking comment for this story, but did leave a voice mail in response to our call shortly before 5 p.m.

“I’ve been asked by the U.S. attorney’s office in Montana to refer all media inquiries regarding any of our activities there today to their office,” DEA public information officer Michael Turner said in a voice mail.

Assistant U.S. Attorney for Montana Victoria Francis, who Turner identified as the person “handling media matters” did not return a message seeking comment before press time Monday.

Late Monday afternoon, a national medical marijuana advocacy group called Americans for Safe Access, released a copy of the search warrant executed at Big Sky Patient Care at Four Corners.

According to the warrant, signed Thursday by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch, authorities were authorized to seize “items that are evidence of the commission of drug trafficking offenses” under federal law, including marijuana; packaging materials and related paraphernalia; cell phones, firearms; books and records.

“Books and records,” include items and “papers with names, addresses and telephone numbers, including but not limited to (those) of co-conspirators and/or persons to whom dangerous drugs have been delivered to or obtained from,” according to the warrant. Also sought: “documents and/or papers which may aid in the identification and location of customers, suppliers and/or co-conspirators.”

Medical marijuana, while legal under at 2004 state law, remains illegal under federal law. On Monday in the state Legislature, a committee deadlocked on a bill that would repeal the state’s medical marijuana law.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-6 on House Speaker Mike Milburn’s House Bill 161, which would repeal the law passed by voters in 2004. Unless the deadlock is broken, the bill is dead.

A spokeswoman for Americans for Safe Access said Monday’s raids were a political effort to undermine Montana’s medical marijuana law.

“By engaging in these raids, the federal government is complicit in exploiting Montana’s current political dynamic with the aim of undermining the state’s medical marijuana law,” ASA spokeswoman Kris Hermes said.

In addition to the local raids, agents conducted raids in Missoula, Helena, Columbia Falls and Billings.

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