It's dark inside Big Sky Health's Reserve Street cannabis dispensary two days after law enforcement raided it along with 11 Western Montana businesses and homes owned by people suspected of drug trafficking.
"I've had patients coming in all day today," says Scarlet Ford, who works at Patty P's Smoke Shop, next door to the now-shuttered Big Sky dispensary. Since the raid, Ford says, she's been fielding inquiries from bewildered Big Sky patients who are asking where to go for medicine. "It's really sad," she says.
Last week's raids marked the second such law enforcement action this year. The first occurred March 14 as the federal government, assisted by state and local law enforcement, executed 26 criminal search warrants for cannabis operations across Montana.
The raids leave caregivers, patients and others like Ford, who earn a living in the state's medical marijuana industry, craving legal predictability.
"It just seems like nobody knows what's going on," Ford says.
After the Montana Legislature this year significantly altered the state's 2004 Medical Marijuana Act, the issue of how best to administer cannabis as medicine has been mired in state courts. The federal government, however, is actively policing Montana's cannabis industry. According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office, last week's raids came on the heels of a 12-month investigation. "Sufficient probable cause was established to support that the premises were involved in illegal and large-scale trafficking of marijuana," the statement explains.
U.S. Attorney's Office Spokeswoman Jessica Fehr declined to comment further on the investigation.
As the federal government gets tough on marijuana, Montana is not the only state grappling with regulatory uncertainty. Prosecutors in California are warning dispensaries to shut down or be charged. That threat prompted members of the California cannabis industry to file multiple lawsuits Nov. 7 seeking to halt federal action. The nonprofit Cannabis Defense Coalition, meanwhile, reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration raided more than a dozen dispensaries in Washington Nov. 15, including providers in Rochester, Tacoma and Seattle.
In Montana, Cannabis Industry Association President Ed Docter says he's outraged that his state's elected representatives seem to be standing idly by while the federal government tramples the will of Montana voters who approved the state's Medical Marijuana Act. "Our governor needs to stop the medical marijuana program," he says, "or kick the feds out."