Two Hardin men will go to federal prison for their activities in Eastern Montana Cannabis, a Hardin-based medical marijuana operation that grew and distributed marijuana to people in the Hardin and Miles City communities.
Ross T. Pattison, 50, and Brandon Lee Strecker, 39, apologized and said they regretted getting involved in the state’s once-booming medical marijuana industry.
“If I never hear the words ‘medical marijuana’ again, it will be too soon,” Pattison told Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull during a hearing Thursday.
Cebull sentenced Pattison, a three-time felon, to 20 months. He gave Strecker one year and a day. Both sentences were shorter than the guideline range of 30 months to 37 months but longer than probationary, home confinement or short-term sentences sought by defense attorneys.
The judge allowed both men to report to prison when assigned to a facility.
Cebull called Pattison’s criminal history “littered with drug use and felony drug convictions” and said he has “never been held accountable for this drug dealing.”
In sentencing Strecker, Cebull noted his lack of criminal history. But, he said, the medical marijuana was distributed to non-medical marijuana customers and the operation “became a typical drug case.”
Prosecutor Paulette Stewart said Pattison was “in it to make money” and had $124,000 from drug sales in a safe in his home. Pattison has been a drug user since age 16 and has three previous felony drug convictions, she said.
Strecker also was in it for the money and has been using marijuana since he was a teenager, Stewart said.
Both defendants quit using marijuana when they got indicted in order to stay out of jail, she said.
Assistant Federal Defender Steve Babcock said Strecker cultivated and distributed marijuana to persons he thought were qualified to receive it under the state’s laws, he said.
Pattison’s attorney, Sandy Selvey, said Pattison, who has a tax preparation business, is a good citizen who “made a terrible mistake,” Selvey said.
Although Montana law provides for medical marijuana, marijuana and medical marijuana is illegal under federal law.
Strecker and Pattison both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to maintain a drug involved-premises in plea agreements. Other charges were dismissed.
Strecker admitted he grew plants at his residence. During a May 2011 search of his property, agents found 420 marijuana plants in a garage, a greenhouse and a bedroom in his house.
Pattison had a medical-marijuana card but was not listed as “a caregiver” because he is a convicted felon, Stewart said.
Co-defendant Travis Birdinground also had a card and was a "caregiver" for one patient.
In an April 2011 search of Pattison’s house, agents found five pounds of marijuana, $124,000 cash, digital scales, other drug paraphernalia and photocopies of medical marijuana cards for caregivers Strecker, Birdinground and co-defendants Jason Owen Gierke of Miles City and Doran Leslie Hewitt II of Hardin.
Gierke, who set up the greenhouse and got marijuana for his patients, was sentenced to three years for conspiracy. Birdinground and Hewitt are awaiting sentencing for their guilty pleas to conspiracy charges.