Someone threw a Molotov cocktail through the window of a Billings medical marijuana business early Monday and spray-painted “NOT IN OUR TOWN” on its storefront, the second such act in as many days, authorities said.
The attempted arsons come as the Billings City Council is scheduled to vote Monday night on whether to place a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses operating in the city. A rock was used to break the glass of Montana Therapeutics at 4:30 a.m. Monday, and a beer bottle filled with gasoline was lit and thrown inside, Billings police Sgt. Kevin Iffland said. A passer-by reported the fire.
Nobody was injured in either instance.
Trevor McFarren, co-owner of Montana Therapeutics, said his business provides medical marijuana for about 50 people and has operated since January. Until now, the business has never had a problem, a complaint or even a bad phone call, he said. McFarren said he believes Monday’s council vote has something to do with the timing of the act.
“I’m sure they’re trying to fuel the fire about (the vote),” he said. “It’s more of an attack on the community than anything.” Police don’t have any suspects, Iffland said. Surveillance video may have captured what happened, but the building’s owners do not want to release the video to police until they speak to their attorney, Iffland said.
Detectives were investigating whether the acts were done by opponents of medical marijuana businesses ahead of the council’s vote or by rivals of the businesses, Iffland said. The medical marijuana trade has boomed in Montana since the Obama administration last year said it would not prosecute medical marijuana cases. More than 4,800 new patients were added to the state’s registry in the first three months of this year, according to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.
As of March 31, there were some 12,081 patients in the state and about 2,800 registered “caregivers” providing them with medical marijuana. That compares with about 800 registered patients in 2008. That growth has exposed holes in the state medical marijuana law that was passed by ballot initiative in 2004, and the state Legislature is now hearing recommendations from law enforcement, cities, schools and the medical marijuana community on how to change the law when it goes back into session in January.
Meanwhile, Montana’s cities and towns are testing different ways to deal with commercial growers. Some have banned them from their city limits while others are seeking ways to regulate them just like other businesses. Several cities have imposed temporary moratoriums on new businesses, such as the one Billings’ leaders are considering, while they figure out a permanent solution.
Billings has issued more than 80 businesses licenses for medical marijuana stores, Iffland said. McFarren estimated his business had about $2,500 in damage. The fire damaged his carpet, but the business was able to operate Monday. He said he hoped some good might come out of the attack in the form of more public awareness. “I’m thinking that a lot more people will look at it now that this has happened,” he said. “People need to be better educated on this.”