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City of Billings asks judge to toss civil rights claims in pot dispensary lawsuit

City of Billings asks judge to toss civil rights claims in pot dispensary lawsuit

The City of Billings is asking a federal court to dismiss claims it violated the civil rights of a marijuana dispensary owner in the course of its investigation into the business.

In a motion filed this week in U.S. District Court, the city asked the court to drop the civil rights claim against both the city and Billings Police Department Det. Steve Hallam.

Attorneys Harlan Krogh and Ben Alke said the dispensary, Montana Organic Medical Supply, or MOMS, hadn’t met its legal burden.

They also repeated what the state has asserted in its defense: The claims are barred by the fact that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

In April, MOMS owner Steve Palmer sued the state, the state health department, two state employees, the city of Billings and the Billings detective. Palmer challenged the actions leading to the shuttering of his business in 2018.

The dispensary argued the state and the city of Billings had ignored a lower court ruling favoring the business. That ruling suspended the state’s revocation of MOMS’ marijuana provider license, finding the state had rushed the process of revoking the license and violated the business’ due process rights.

MOMS also said the city detective then went too far in applying for a search warrant to investigate the business. After the state suspended his license and the court put that suspension on hold, Hallam applied for a search warrant in which MOMS says he misrepresented the earlier court order by indicating to the new judge that the license suspension was upheld, when it was actually put on hold. The business said his presentation of the facts amounted to “judicial deception.”

Attorneys for the city and Hallam denied in their filing this week that the detective misrepresented any of the facts in his search warrant application, or engaged in any wrongdoing.

But even if he had, they say, the business never met the legal burden for bringing the civil rights claims against a municipality. 

The city also zeroed in on the discrepancy between federal law and Montana law, which now allows for both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana — although the recreational market has not yet gone live.

“Federal law enforcement officers could shut down every licensed marijuana provider in the State and charge them criminally at any time,” the city wrote. 

In addition to the civil rights violation claim, MOMS is seeking punitive damages against the city and the detective, among other claims still to be addressed in the lawsuit.

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