HELENA — If American society's tolerance for marijuana is now growing, then what happened in Montana illustrates just what can happen when the government decides things have gone too far.

Pot advocates were running caravans, helping hundreds of residents in a day get medical marijuana user cards. Some doctors who conducted cursory exams on scores of people were fined. As the number of users quickly grew, so did a retail industry that led some to dub the state "Big High Country."

Today, thousands of medical-pot providers have gone out of business, and a health department survey showed that the number of registered users have fallen to less than a quarter of their 2011 numbers.

The drop was driven in part by a tougher 2011 law on medical-marijuana use and distribution. But more than anything, marijuana advocates say, the demise of the once-booming medical pot industry was the result of the largest federal drug-trafficking investigation in the state's industry.

The three-year investigation by the U.S. attorney's office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies wrapped up last week when the last of 33 convicted defendants was sentenced. That allowed its architect, U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter, to speak publicly for the first time on the crackdown.

"For a long time, we were hearing complaints from local law enforcement and from citizens ... that they were tired of marijuana and they were tired of it next to schools, to churches, people smoking it openly on the streets," Cotter said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"It was just something that had to be done," he said. "And the result of doing it the way that we did, it was a strong statement that marijuana wasn't going to be tolerated in Montana."

Cotter said he believes he is on the right side of history, regardless of what is happening around the nation. Last fall, voters in Colorado and Washington state passed laws to legalize recreational pot use, and a Pew Research Center poll released last month found 52 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal.

The Justice Department has yet to decide whether to sue in federal court to block Colorado and Washington's laws under the legal argument that federal laws outlawing any use, possession or distribution of marijuana prevail over state laws.

In Montana, what started out as a system to provide marijuana to those with health problems turned the state into a source for drug trafficking, Cotter said. The industry had ballooned so much and so quickly that drug traffickers were operating under the guise of medicinal caregivers, and the pot was being sent to users in New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado and other states, he said.

Now, marijuana is still in Montana, but it's manageable, he said.

The investigations were split geographically into three parts: Operation Smokejumper, Operation Weed Be Gone and Operation Noxious Weed. They targeted medical-marijuana providers dealing in more than 100 plants and came away with 34 indictments, from a longtime state lobbyist to a former University of Montana quarterback.

Most of those arrested argued at first that they were following the state's medical marijuana law. When federal prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard, successfully squelched that argument in court, all but three of the providers made plea deals.

The federal Controlled Substances Act, which bans any distribution or use of marijuana, trumps state law, Thaggard said. Besides, the investigation found that none of the defendants was following state law, he added.

"I think that we were confident that if we had to go down that road, we would show just how out of compliance these people were," Thaggard said.

The final scorecard: 33 convictions. Thirty-one made plea deals, two went to trial and lost and the case against the accountant of a provider was dismissed.

Federal prosecutors in other states watched closely as the probe unfolded in Montana, and was widely seen as a success and possibly a model for others, Cotter said.

"Speaking through enforcement action does have the deterrent effect that is needed," Cotter said. "It had the effect that we were looking for, and that was to deter the trafficking of marijuana."

Montana Cannabis Information Association spokesman and Marijuana Policy Project lobbyist Chris Lindsey — who also was one of the 33 providers convicted in the probe — agreed the federal investigation was the main driver in changing the shape of the industry.

But a federal crackdown won't stem the tide of the public will, he said.

Montana residents are increasingly in favor of improving the medical-marijuana laws so there is better regulation and better access for those who need it, Lindsey said. "In Montana, it seems our options have only been the wild, wild West or no activity at all. Ultimately, we will be in the middle," Lindsey said.

Cotter and DEA Agent in Charge Brady MacKay, who led much of the investigation, dispute that medical marijuana is beneficial for the seriously ill. They say patients who need the relief that marijuana provides should get it from Marinol, a prescription drug that contains some of the properties of marijuana.

"I think it's Madison Avenue marketing, the person who dreamed up tying medical and marijuana together," Cotter said. "It's a powerful marketing tool. But the fact of the matter remains that marijuana is a dangerous drug and it's harmful to people," Cotter said.


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(55) comments


The fact of the matter remains that alcohol is a dangerous drug and is harmful to people; yet society tolerates it because Prohibition was and is a greater disaster. Ditto with pot. We waste tens of billions of dollars chasing, prosecuting and incarcerating kids with weed. Marijuana should be legal for recreational use, high taxes will off-set the funds needed to counsel and contain those who cannot control themselves, just like with alcohol. Someone in both agent MacKay and Cotter's families are regular marijuana users. They should not be criminals.




Keep cracking down on the pot heads!!! Love it!

Infamous J

Let's see...34 indictments out of several thousand providers? Yeah, sounds out of control. Phonies. Cotter and his kind are going the way of the dinosaur, and will certainly be on the wrong side of history.

Nearly half the states now have medical cannabis laws. Half have either decriminalized or minimized punishments for possession and use. Two states have full on legalized, and it is projected that as many as three more will in the next 3 years.

We are winning this war, and the little side-show the DEA and Cotter pulled in Montana will be nothing more than a sidenote in the history books.


I wonder how much the feds spent to get their 34 indictments. How much will we spend incarcerating the growers? Think its worth it? Do they really think anything changed? All it did was drive people underground and made criminals out of people who otherwise are squeaky clean by forcing them underground. Cannabis is here to stay whether you like it or not. Legalize it, tax it and be done with it!

Infamous J

Apparently you missed the sarcasm in my post. A little reading comprehension goes a long way...


I missed nothing in your post, J. Why you would be so snide to me when we are arguing for the same thing, is beyond me though.


Medical Marijuana has a place as long as "user cards" aren't handed out like business cards.
There must be certain criteria for issueing a "card". M.D.'s running a "day clinic" and handing out hundreds of cards in a day reeks of abuse.
Young people with a minor backache or a sore shoulder shouldn't be considered eligible.
I suffer from severe rhumatoid arthritis and would likely be eligible, but personally I don't like the stuff and don't think it has any effect on "pain relief".
When the dispenseries first opened people told me I "needed" to get a "card", not because I wanted to use the stuff, but just because I was eligible. I call BS on that angle.
I know others with mental afflictions that the use seems to help a lot, plus others on chemotherapy seem to benefit, but handing out the stuff to every person that has a bit of pain is not what the Law was meant to do. Just my "two - bits worth."...


Why shouldn't it be available for minor backache or a sore shoulder? Aspirin is and it is far more dangerous. If you don't think it helps you, leave it alone, but leave the rest a choice. Because multitudes and the government KNOWS it works.


So much for State's Rights. The Feds have gone too far. Medical "pot" growers being out of business is NOT a good thing. Now the use of meth is on the rise again. Why don't they investigate the CIA heroin trafficking? I am wondering what Cotter heard from patients, he is curiously silent on that. He "believes" he is on the right side of history? I am not interested in his "beliefs". Cannabis is still available on the black market, so now they have no convenient list of victims provided by the State. The "success" of Federal Prosecutors meant misery for patients. If MacKay likes Marinol so much, let him try it for pain or anything else. It is uselessness itself, with side effects.


I am always amazed at the hate filled speech & vicious attitude of the anti-marijuana crowd. One would think that they would have Holocaust like pictures and filing cabinets full of medical studies backing up their hatred but they don't...all they have is ignorance and a left over attitude from the Randolph Hearst quest for market dominance.

I feel most for Brady MacKay and Mike Cotter. All that education and experience and hard work...one would think they would want their efforts to go toward something meaningful....like stopping Boston Bomber incidents or stopping the sex slave trade or eliminating child porn...

When history is written about these times there will no doubt be applause for those agents that helped save lives and destroy the evils of this world, but when MacKay and Cotter types are written about and the literally trillions of dollars wasted on a fruitless mission there will be no props for them...only the agonizing question of Why? How sad for them......


I doubt if those men are that stupid, but money talks. They get paid to spread misery among sick folks.

Los Cangrejos

I'm pretty much okay with outright legalization. I am however wondering how to go about taxing something you can grow on your own. Maybe there won't be enough people who grown their own to worry about.

My main worry is how to keep it away from kids. We've not been hugely successful in keeping booze from kids. How do we figure to be more so with weed? I mean it's illegal to provide booze to kids now, but somehow, the kids manage. How will it be different with weed? Make it even MORE illegal?

Plus, it's not like we can use a lot more impaired drivers. It's plenty dangerous on the roads already and the legislature, judges and county attorneys don't seem all that interested in providing a deterrent to drunk driving.

As said, I'm pretty much okay with legalization. I just think we have some things to sort out first.

Infamous J

Anybody can brew beer. However, most don't. Alcohol is also heavily taxed.

The reason kids have limited access to booze is because of the regulations in place. Cannabis is easier for kids to get than alcohol, because cannabis sales are not regulated. Drug dealers don't check IDs.

The roads are plenty safe, and, if the city would invest in public transportation, everybody wouldn't have to drive everywhere.


Cannabis does not impair driving, unless it is mixed with alcohol or other substances.


You can grow pot on your own, but if you want actual quality, you'll need to set up an expensive grow op and have extreme patience. It's not just like oh hey throw this seed into the pot next to the window and lets smoke in a few weeks.


Kids find alcohol and they will find marijuana, prescription drugs or whatever else they want. I think many abuse marijuana but I have seen it be so helpful for people with mental problems, behavioral problems, etc. And they do not need to be stoned to have results. Figure out a way to have legal caregivers and legal, needy recipients.

Justin Michels

Cotter and other federal prosecutors would do themselves a huge favor by doing a little research in order to stop sounding like hate-filled idiots. His opinion may be that "medical marijuana" is a scam, but the simple fact is marijuana has been proven safe and far more effective than pharmaceutical competitors for countless ailments. This is why our federal government fights against an herb people can grow themselves and use to cure serious illnesses including cancer. It is absolutely no coincidence that some of the biggest political donors (for both parties) are pharmaceutical giants that are gravely threatened by not just cannabis -- but all homeopathy and medicinal herbs. To claim his opinion of this herb has any relevance on its medical utility or resulting legality indicates Mr. Cotter has never even bothered to read the Controlled Substances Act upon which all this nonsense is blamed. Then again, it appears most 'journalists' haven't bothered to do so either... Yet.

Jason Smith



"The federal Controlled Substances Act, which bans any distribution or use of marijuana, trumps state law, Thaggard said." ---- Yet another without the ability to read the Supremacy clause for themselves.... The Constitution is the law of the land and there is no authorization for the federal government to control anything the individual consumes... whether it's raw milk or cannabis, it is none of the gubmint's business.


Are they going to crack down on Washington state?


bigger problems out there..... tax the weed, feed the kids. move on.......


puff puff pass


so the answer is have medical marajana paticents take a pill? whats the differance, oh thats right the pharmisudical industry has great lobbist.


holy spidermites!!


bail out and give billions to banks and failing investment companies tax payer dollars of coarse ....why not legalize the crap , tax it and let the business owner make an honest law abiding living?....we spend billions a year trying to control and fight ....turn the tide.


Reality: Mr. Colter is wrong.

Chuck Feney
Chuck Feney

Speaking of weed dealers hiding as "Providers", what happened to Schweitzer's nephew Friedrick, who got popped for receiving a few pounds of bud via FEDEX when his card was expired?
Do ya' think Uncle Brian took care of that for him?
Nephew Le Pew

A Governor's nephew named Friedrick
Had FedEx deliver him a weed brick
"It's for my patients" he said
As his rights he was read,
"I'd rather be jailed than see them be sick!"

But Friedrick's caregiver card had expired,
And then found himself deeply mired
In a legal morass
Of a critical mass
'Cause ol'Uncle Brian will soon to be retired!

Little Friedrick yelled he was entrapped
And the system was most likely apt
To let Friedrick go
'Cause politicians, don'cha know
In Court, only get their wrists slapped!

But the Federal charges will be a different story
'Cause interstate transport gets you SuperMax glory.
This is a kick in the rear
To Schweitzer's Senate career
And the realpolitik blowback is gonna be gory.


All the Cheech & Chongers, you reap what you sowed! Nice job everyone! All the long-winded posts here, will do nothing. You people screwed up! "Medical" MJ, yea, take an aspirin, it's actually more effective, doesn't pollute your lungs, and doesen't cause brain damage! I like the spelling from some of these posts, yea, high much?! Go smoke thistle bushes, it's natural too! Any pot fool want beer sold next to a school? They never actually answer the question...they just post some "study" from some "Dr", who is high as well! Pot heads make me laugh! They be funny!

native mt

bkb, you do not know what you are taking about.

Infamous J

Aspirin is linked to pancreatic cancer and has been shown to cause ulcers and other gastrointestinal maladies. It can also make a person anemic, can lead to coma, and certainly makes people nauseous.

I don't know anybody who has a problem with beer being sold next to schools. It is already available at every convenience and grocery store. Pills are sold at pharmacies that practically outnumber the casinos in this town.

Still mad that we won the war, eh?


Not to mention that if my baby gets a hold of a bottle of aspirin she is as good as dead. Finds my weed and eats the whole 1/4 oz and she won't even get high. Won't get sick, and certainly won't die. Not that I would be careless enough to let her get a bottle of aspirin or a bag of weed but the FACT remains that it is less harmful than aspirin. bkb before talking about how uneducated "potheads" are, check your question about if we want beer sold next to a school? isn't there a convenience store across the street from senior high? a high school senior can go gamble on his lunch break if he wants in billings. get a clue.


bkb, please provide one piece of evidence of cannabis causing brain damage in adults.


It is a natural herb, just like cocaine. As a matter of fact, cocaine was used in the late 1800 and early 1900 as a medicine. I think we need to legalize it, so we can be prescribed this natural, homeopathic "medicine". Why stop at just pot? Pot doesn't help pain, but cocaine does. How about hash? It is all natural, it will make you "feel" better. Heck, lets just legalize everything. I'm sure someone will find a use for everything. Won't they? Now, I need to go find my prescription for Jack Daniels.

Infamous J

Cocaine is still used in surgery. Methamphetamine is prescribed to children with ADHD under the trade name "Desoxyn". Opiate based pharmaceuticals, such as morphine, originated (pre-synthesis) from the opium poppy, which is used to make heroin. Hash is nothing more than a concentration of THC crystals from cannabis. GW Pharmaceuticals is currently in the process of marketing "Sativex" all over the world, and is in the final trial stages for marketing in the US. Sativex is cannabis based oral-mucosal spray, that is identical to the tinctures that were available at nearly all medical cannabis dispensaries.

Care to argue against all of that, or are you just going to keep burying your head in the sand like Cotter and his cronies?


good morning puff puff pass.


Let's see we're free but can't smoke marijuana but we can go to bar and get drunk. When ever your never going to stop drugs u just make the dealer richer by not legalizing it lol. you have less registered because when they were registered you wouldnt leave them alone. Dont get stoned get drunk and get the normal Montana 10 dui. Thats what the good old boys do (stupid)


The anti-marijuana campaign by local law-makers and law enforcement in Montana is a perfect example of oligarchy or "rule by a few." After 64% of the voters approved the decriminalization of marijuana in Montana, a much smaller percentage of voters in the guise of local town and city government ass-ficials set out to make the new law unworkable with hastely and sometimes secretly constructed local policies to make the new law unworkable.


wanna go gram for gram with me? ill smoke 1 gram of pot, you take 1 gram of aspirin. and we will continue daily for a month, and at the end we will go get blood tests to see who has done more damage. and just FYI... a gram a day is about 4x what I usually have in a day. just do that comparison and you can easily see how non dangerous it is. I was a cardholder, not any more....still tokin.

lefty the cowboy

When the Feds raided Montana MM providers and their employees they ignored the same activities in Washington, Colorado and California. Why? ...because Obama needed to win those states, and had a chance to do so. He could have never won Montana's electoral vote, and our vote is too little to help much anyway, so Montana was the perfect place for the administration to crawl into that big sweaty bed with our homegrown rightwingers. It's called 'sucking up to the reactionaires without losing too many from the base'. In other words, a conspiracy involving the 'more government/more law' Teapublicans and the Obama administration.


I'm much too old to have experienced MJ when I was younger. I do find it interesting that most commenters support liberal MJ laws than oppose it. I've got no dog in this fight, but it has appeared to me for many years that MJ should be legalized and taxed. Not just for medicinal uses, but recreational as well. I was surprised to read that Lefty decided to blame Obama for this, Huh? Didn't he admit to trying it as a young guy? What do you want Lefty?

lefty the cowboy

I'm sorry 'fidlr', I guess my language was imprecise or unclear. I'll try again... and I am certain I have been very consistent on this issue. When the Feds raided MM growers in mass, they were directed by Eric Holder, Obama's Attorney General. They carefully timed those raids to occur on the very day Montana's Legislature was to debate and take a vote on medical marijuana reform. Holder's troops did not make similiar raids in Colorado, California or Washington, although those states also had legalized MM and had system not unlike Montana's. Holder worked hand in hand with right wing Montana politicians during the planning, execution and aftermath of this exercise. Many people, myself included, assume Obama, an astute politician with a second term election coming up, could not alienate his base in Colorado, California and Washington, where he had at least of shot of carrying those states, so he dared not try to score a few points with conservatives there, ... (cont)

lefty the cowboy

(continuing) but Montana? He knew he no had chance of winning our electoral vote, and being cynical, as politicians are certain to be, he and his team figured 'what the heck, we can make a powerful anti MM statement, sure to find favor with many conservatives everywhere, without paying a political price'. Those people were simply fodder in the campaign.


Brady MacKay and Mike Cotter Dumb and Dumber. Don't worry you will have your day when you are judged too.


I'm sure prohibition will work one of these days.......... {end sarcasm font}

Family Values MT

Back in 2010 I was working at one of the resorts. I had about 120 people reporting to me direct or indirect. I'd say that about 80% had a MM card. It was like a joke to get one. Got a back ache - get some medical weed. Depression - get some medical weed. Have trouble sleeping - get some medical weed. Arthritis - get some medical weed. Asthma - get some medical weed. Yeah, that's right asthma. Go figure. No wonder the feds decided to bring this farce to an end. And the people that decided to try and get rich quick becoming "care providers"... have fun in federal prison. You will be there for a while.


Very interesting Family Values, so you're saying 80% of the employees who reported to you smoked pot...hmm..I figured they'd rather sit home and play video games. Ha. But seriously, do you think those past employees are better off incarcerated or better off working to make a living and being part of society?

Family Values MT

They worked so they could ski and buy weed. That was basically their whole reason for living. And most of them were way beyond the age where that would be "cool". If that makes them productive citizens then we have a vastly different opinion of what that means.


Your Brain on Drugs/ Marijuana:

Your Brain on Drugs: Alcohol:

The Men who made Weed illegal:

The Union:

history channel marijuana: a chronic history full:


@Family Values MT- that is a lie, I was a card holder until the legislators decided to pass a repeal and call it a reform. you could NOT get a card for depression. you could NOT get a card for asthma. (are you kidding me?) You could get a card for 3 things in MT, chronic pain, a wasting disease like cancer or AIDS or others, or for muscle spasms caused by crohns disease or other digestive diseases. And the FACT of the matter, a phrase Cotter coined, is that marijuana has NEVER killed a single person in the history of the world. but aspirin has and Tylenol has and there are 100,000 deaths every single year caused by pharmaceuticals that are being taken as prescribed. The fact of the matter is that there are many studies showing the health benefits of marijuana and it's many other uses including recreational and that the federal government ignores them. It costs America BILLIONS to incarcerate marijuana users. Land of the free baby.


“I think it’s Madison Avenue marketing, the person who dreamed up tying medical and marijuana together,” Cotter said. “It’s a powerful marketing tool. But the fact of the matter remains that marijuana is a dangerous drug and it’s harmful to people,” Cotter said.

Unbelievable. But then it gets better when Brady MacKay doesn't even shy away from revealing who he really works for by making a marketing plug for Abbott Pharmaceuticals. What a couple of shameless corporate tools. I wonder if either of them own stock in Corrections Corp. or any of the pharmaceutical companies who benefit from Cannabis prohibition?

Jesus Christ folks, it's 2013 yet we still entrust public policy to buffoons like Michael Cotter who is repeating the same lies the anti-Cannabis folks have been saying for 70 years. This is real life folks! There are real people- JUST LIKE YOU- who are rotting in Federal prison for decades on end because of laws based on the lies Michael Cotter and Brady MacKay and the other anti-Cannabis conspirators make. It's too bad Mr. Cotter didn't remind us of another "truth" about the devil weed made by one of the founders of the war on Cannabis, the infamous Harry J. Anslinger. "Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians, and entertainers. Their satanic music is driven by marijuana, and marijuana smoking by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others. It is a drug that causes insanity, criminality, and death — the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind."

I'm tired of waiting for our elected officials to be guided by science, common sense or even an allegiance to the idea we are free people with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Call all three members of our CONgressional delegation and demand Cannabis in all her forms be re-legalized immediately! Do it!

Steve Daines (202) 225-3211
Max Baucus (202) 224-2651
Jon Tester (202) 224-2644

Dr Livingston
Dr Livingston

Very well written. I was just about to compose a similar response, but Shanangans hit the nail on the head! "“I think it’s Madison Avenue marketing, the person who dreamed up tying medical and marijuana together,” Cotter said. “It’s a powerful marketing tool. But the fact of the matter remains that marijuana is a dangerous drug and it’s harmful to people,” Cotter said." Who made this man chief science officer of the world? Who cares what his opinions are? When was the last time any of the ER's had an emergency marijuana overdose? LOL! What a joke!


Smoke it if you want to. Don't give it to my kids. No one on here can see the ultimate stupidity that took place. The dumbest people you elected set up a system that had no controls or limitations. It is their fault this was a free for all. Quit blaming the left or the right. You're all wrong for electing these morons that never even talked to someone that could tell them the truth about MaryJane. They did that when they reformed the law a couple years later. I don't smoke but tried it when younger. Not my thing but I had a card for a year. Just to see how tough it was to get. Was ridiculously easy to have a card sent from the state government. Too bad majority of people out there are too stupid too see why this scandal went full circle and most providers are in jail now. Bet they get out and sue the state govt. What a joke. Say goodbye to Montana of old. State is run by schmucks who moved here to live out their fantasy of being in the great west. Find another fetish, morons.

more savage

If this stuff is so great how come its not legal in China, France, Spain, Russia, England, Korea, Canada, or even Mexico........ oh ya US congress???


34 entrepreneurial Montanans indicted who had the courage to start businesses they believed in. 34 lives drastically changed for the worst due to corrupt laws and people in charge. A few of them even sent to private prisons, the same prisons that stuff politicians pockets to keep pot illegal. The gap in the market after the raids was quickly filled with pot from other caregivers as well as out of state and out of country pot. So how exactly do Cotter and Mackay feel positive about what they did? For simply ruining lives with indictments and prison terms? For spending millions of taxpayer dollars to do so?
So many resources and so much money wasted in this continued fight. Pot makes some people feel better and puts smiles on their faces. Does that mean we should send them to prison for it?

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