HELENA — Federal enforcement agents raided a Helena medical marijuana provider on Friday, the latest development in a continuing crackdown on pot distributors in the state.
Paul Schmidt, the owner of Sleeping Giant Caregivers, was out of town Friday afternoon, but confirmed to The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview that agents were at his marijuana operation on the eastern edge of Helena.
A search and seizure warrant signed Thursday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch of Missoula authorized federal agents to seize items that are "evidence of the commission of drug trafficking offenses," including marijuana and hashish, weapons, transaction records and other documents and paraphernalia.
Lynch ordered the case sealed, and it was not immediately known what was seized from the raid.
Federal agents also had a warrant to seize up to $1.2 million from an account at Mountain West Bank. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Fehr in Billings said that warrant also is connected to the Sleeping Giant case.
The Drug Enforcement Administration was involved and there were no other federal raids taking place Friday, Fehr said.
Outside the warehouse where Sleeping Giant Caregivers is located, the windows were shuttered and several confused patients were turned away by an officer at the door. Another officer stood watch at the rear of the building, where a large, unmarked truck was parked.
The raid and warrants are similar to those of March 14, when 26 search warrants and four bank seizure warrants were executed on medical marijuana operations in Montana.
More than 2,880 marijuana plants and 258 kilograms of bulk and loose pot were seized in the March raids, along with weapons, vehicles and a ski boat.
U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter of Montana has said the raids are part of a long-term investigation into drug trafficking, though no charges have been filed.
The raids happened as state lawmakers were revising Montana's medical marijuana law to restrict who qualifies as a patient and to prevent pot providers from making a profit. Several providers in the state's once-booming industry have since closed or suspended operations.
Two Montana providers who were raided have sued the U.S. government, claiming the searches were unconstitutional.
The Montana director of the advocacy group NORML said the raids have left hundreds of patients without a safe, reliable supply of marijuana, and Friday's operation was more of the same.
"It's not only an egregious attack on states' rights but on fundamental human and civil rights," said John Masterson.
The raids appear to be part of a larger U.S. Department of Justice crackdown on medical marijuana providers. Letters have been sent by Cotter and U.S. attorneys in several other medical marijuana states warning that department would enforce the Controlled Substances Act against anyone manufacturing or distributing marijuana, even if it's permitted under state law.
The department has said it won't prosecute seriously ill medical marijuana patients who follow state law.