Missoula Story of the Week: Medical Marijuana Arrests


Last spring Montana businesses involved in one of the state’s newest industries witnessed the power of the federal government after raids left their businesses in shambles.

Almost a year later, some of the medical marijuana providers have once again found themselves in trouble with federal law enforcement. According to a Missoulian article, four of the six plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the raids, were once again arrested.

Despite a voter approved medical marijuana law passed by citizens, the industry saw sweeping federal raids of their homes and businesses last spring. The action sparked outrage over the U.S. government’s power to overturn voters’ wishes and prompted six medical marijuana providers to file a lawsuit against the federal government.

In 2004, nearly 63% of Montana voters approved a ballot initiative allowing the use of medical marijuana. Montana became the tenth state to approve such a measure, as stated Amednews.com.

However, the industry saw little growth until President Barack Obama was elected. “In the early days of the Obama administration, the Department of Justice announced that federal prosecutors would not target dispensaries that obey state laws” according to a USNews article.

The administration’s statement fostered a boom in businesses involved in the industry, but the boom went bust when federal authorities conducted sweeping raids a year ago.

The Missoula County Courthouse

The lawsuit filed by business owners arrested Tuesday challenges the constitutionality of federal law-enforcement’s actions. The subsequent re-arrests of some of the plaintiffs have led their attorney Paul Livingston to question the motives of federal officials.

Livingston suggested that, “the government wants to show how devastating they can be to people’s lives because they’re involved in this business,” in Tuesday’s Missoulian.

However, Randy Leibenguth, who was arrested and is involved in the lawsuit, does not see a connection with the civil suit. Leibenguth told the Missoulian that federal authorities “were taking a year to gather information to come up with a good case and make it hard for (the plaintiffs) to fight back.”

While the lawsuit contends that industry raids last spring were unconstitutional, Judge Donald Molloy dismissed the suit citing the precedent set in Gonzales v. Raich. The decision described on the Jurist’s website, explains that “Molloy held that the Supremacy Clause allowed federal law to trump the state law.” The plaintiffs have appealed Molloy’s decision and it is now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The argument for medical marijuana is now intertwined with the issue of state’s rights, a question which has been disputed since the founding of our country. For now, the ambiguity of the industry leaves providers in danger of being prosecuted and patients once again relying on black market suppliers for their medical needs.


Each week, Tom Diddel recaps the week’s most talked-about story in Missoula. Visit the Make it Missoula News & Opinion section for more talk of the town.


Tom Diddel has lived in Missoula on and off for nearly thirty-eight years. He enjoys skiing, hiking, and many other outdoor activities. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Montana and is currently working as a Freelance Writer and a Para-Educator.