Firebombs target 2 medical-marijuana businesses

Early morning vandalism
2010-05-10T05:31:00Z Firebombs target 2 medical-marijuana businessesKAHRIN DEINES Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
May 10, 2010 5:31 am  • 

Two medical marijuana businesses in Billings were firebombed and tagged with graffiti reading “NOT IN OUR TOWN” over the last two days, rattling their owners and leaving others outraged in advance of a City Council meeting to decide whether to restrict the industry’s growth.  

“It’s ugly, and it was a hate crime,” said David Couch, owner of Big Sky Patient Care, one of the two medical marijuana providers vandalized in the last two days.  

On Monday, the graffiti had been removed from the storefront’s windows, which are decorated with paintings by Couch’s 6-year-old granddaughter. But shattered glass and broken decorative vases still littered the pebbled concrete of the business’s main entry.   

The store in the Rimrock Mini Mall at 111 S. 24th St. W. was hit early Sunday while its owner was celebrating Mother’s Day with his wife on a trip to Fort Smith. A second medical marijuana business, Montana Therapeutics, was hit early Monday at 2109 Grand Ave.  

As of Monday afternoon, police said they had no leads or suspects in the incidents, which were estimated to have caused several thousands of dollars in damage.  

“We need to plan on being more vigilant around these businesses,” said Billings Police Sgt. Kevin Iffland.  

In recent weeks, the Billings City Council has heard impassioned debate about medical marijuana while considering whether to impose a moratorium on new cannabis providers in the city limits. A rapid rise in both the number of medical marijuana users and providers — including about 80 businesses with licenses in Billings — has prompted efforts to develop zoning regulations and other restrictions statewide.     

Brandy Hodges, one of four owners of Montana Therapeutics, said they support efforts to restrict the opening of marijuana businesses near schools, and clarify other issues, such as how to measure the amount of marijuana in edible products.       

“It’s tough to know that you’re doing it right when there’s so much gray area,” Hodges said. But, she said, marijuana businesses should not be banned from city limits after voters approved their operation in a 2004 ballot measure.  

As she spoke, the 31-year-old Billings native sat at a table that had been moved out of the business’s waiting room — a now empty area with a charred, waterlogged carpet and a nearby window spray-painted to read “not in our town.”   

“It’s just as much my town as anybody else’s town,” Hodges said.  

The message scrawled across the storefronts’ windows — “Not In Our Town” — mirrors the name of an anti-hate-group that has been active in Billings for years. Eran Thompson, the director of that organization, said board members are discussing whether to campaign against the firebombings as they have against violence directed at religious groups and ethnicities.  

“For someone to co-opt our message in this way is really sickening to us,” Thompson said.  

Video surveillance of the firebombing at Big Sky Patient Care shows two people wearing hoods outside the storefront at about 5 a.m.  Within a minute, one uses spray paint to vandalize a window, while the other uses a projectile to start a fire in the store’s entry.

According to the police, both a soft-ball-sized rock and fragments from a glass liquor bottle were found inside.

Iffland said the owner of Big Sky Patient Care was talking to his attorneys before turning video surveillance footage over to police.

Big Sky Patient Care has only been open at the mall location for a few weeks, but it has held its municipal license since January, Couch said. Montana Therapeutics also opened months ago, making it unlikely either business would be affected by a moratorium passed by the Billings City Council.  

Still, owners of both dispensaries fear municipal governments may unfairly subject the new industry to draconian rules.    

“You’re not inventing the wheel here,” Couch said. “Rather than make an intelligent recommendation, which is what they should do, they’re just going to slam the door.”

Contact Kahrin Deines at kdeines@billingsgazette.com or 657-1392.

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