Key claims by a medical marijuana provider against the state for shuttering the business in 2018 should be dropped due to previous court rulings on the drug, which remains illegal under federal law, the state said Monday.
Attorneys representing the state argued in a brief filed Monday with the U.S. District Court in Billings that previous higher court rulings render moot some of the biggest claims in the lawsuit from Montana Organic Medical Supply.
MOMS, the supplier, argues the state and the city of Billings 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.
In the brief filed Monday, the state’s attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Susan Watters to dismiss claims alleging civil rights violations and seeking punitive damages.
The attorneys said those claims had no merit in light of previous rulings from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, which state no one has a federally protected property interest in marijuana because it remains illegal under federal law.
The state’s attorneys also said the individual employees are protected from the civil rights claims through qualified immunity.
The only legally proper entity to sue for the remaining claims, the state said, was the state of Montana itself – and not the health department or individual employees.
Those remaining claims include interference with a business relationship. MOMS said in shutting down the business prematurely, even after a lower court suspended that decision, the state interfered with MOMS’ plans to merge with another business and its relationship with the 841 cardholders who had to find a new provider after MOMS was shuttered.
The state, the Department of Public Health and Human Services and two individual state employees are represented by Michael Kauffman and Patricia Klanke of Drake Law Firm in Helena.
The city of Billings has yet to respond to the lawsuit.
MOMS, which was owned by Steven Palmer, has a history of disputes with the city.
It had operated as a medical marijuana provider since 2011, but in 2017 the city rejected an application for a business license renewal, citing the city’s de facto ban on dispensaries. That ban said all licensed businesses needed to comply with state and federal laws, while marijuana remains listed on the federal schedule of illegal drugs.
MOMS sued the city of Billings, arguing a separate section of city code actually did allow for his business to be licensed.
The Montana Legislature passed a measure creating sideboards for recreational marijuana in the state, which Gov. Greg Gianforte is expected to sign.
The bill allocates $6 million to Gianforte's fund planned for substance abuse prevention and addiction treatment.
The city of Billings is also readying guidelines for medical marijuana operation within the city, with plans for recreational guidelines to come after that.