- Legal Industry
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One of Missoula business community’s fastest growing segments did a sudden about-face in 2011.
Today, the city has drastically fewer medical pot businesses compared to the same period last year. According to the Business Licensing Office of Missoula, there are only around 38 compared to last year’s 63.
Jeff Essmann, the state senator who filed a bill restricting such types of businesses said he would love to take credit for the change in landscape. The bill filed by Sen. Essman, a Republican from Billings, eventually became a law.
Nevertheless, Sen. Essman said, “I think it’s largely due to federal law enforcement.”
Federal agents raided in March and November several marijuana businesses across the state, including those located in the Flathead and Missoula. Despite the voter-approved legalization of the medical use of marijuana, federal law still classifies the drug as illegal.
Owners of some establishments targeted by the raids have already pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. A number of such charges carry hefty fines and stiff prison sentences.
“I think the threat of significant jail time brought a sense of reality to a lot of people who were engaged in the operation,” said Sen. Essman.
According to John Masterson, who chairs the state’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the highly publicized produced a chilling effect on medical pot businesses, as well as their clients.
Masterson said, “We’ve got entrepreneurs who were, by all accounts I’m aware of, complying with state law. They just were successful business people who were raided by, basically, federal law enforcement soldiers in body armor with gas masks and submachine guns.”
He also said, “Many or maybe all who were raided were acting in good faith and believed they were in compliance with state law.”