A judge Thursday sentenced three members of a Miles City family of medical marijuana providers to prison after they pleaded guilty to drug charges following a federal crackdown on Montana medical pot operators last year.
Richard Flor, his wife Sherry and their son Justin ran a medical marijuana operation out of their home and from a Billings dispensary. Richard Flor was a co-owner of Montana Cannabis, one of the state’s largest medical pot operations and a target in the March 2011 raids by federal agents on marijuana providers across Montana.
The raids targeted large-scale medical marijuana operations, casting a pall on a once-booming industry while the providers argued that they were in compliance with state law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, citing a ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in another case, said when a state medical marijuana law conflicts with the federal Controlled Substances Act, the federal law prohibiting the manufacture and distribution of marijuana prevails.
More than 25 people have been indicted as a result of those raids and 12 people have been sentenced so far, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement Thursday.
After a five-hour hearing that included emotional testimony from Richard and Sherry Flor’s daughter, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell passed down the harshest sentences related to those raids.
Lovell sentenced Richard Flor to five years imprisonment on a charge that he maintained a drug-involved premises. Flor, 68, suffers from numerous ailments, and Lovell recommended that he be evaluated by federal prison hospital officials to determine what facility would best suit him.
Sherry Flor was the bookkeeper for the family’s Miles City operation and tended the plants growing in the backyard. Lovell sentenced her to two years in prison after she pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with the intent to distribute marijuana.
Justin Flor operated the Billings dispensary and also tended to the plants growing at the home. He was sentenced to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and after he was found to have violated the conditions of his release after his arrest last June.
State authorities found marijuana and a gun in Justin Flor’s bedroom when they arrested him in January on charges that he had sex with a minor under the age of 16.
Pleas for leniency
Attorneys for the family and Kristin Flor, Sherry and Richard’s daughter, had asked for leniency. Richard Flor is too ill to be placed in a prison’s general population, while Sherry and Justin were only minor players in the operation, they said.
They added that family was following the state’s medical marijuana law. The family also believed they were operating with the approval of the federal government after a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice memo said prosecutors would not pursue people who were in strict compliance with state medical marijuana laws, Kristin Flor said.
“He thought that he was doing it the right way. We all thought he was doing it the right way,” Kristin Flor said of her father.
Richard Flor’s attorney Brad Arndorfer said the federal government is at least partially responsible for the explosion of medical marijuana users and providers after that memo.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard said it is not true that the government lured the medical marijuana providers into the belief that that would not be prosecuted. The 2009 Justice Department memo made clear that those involved in medical marijuana had to be in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws.
The Flors were not, Thaggard said. They manufactured and sold hashish, they distributed marijuana among providers and they sold marijuana to undercover DEA agents, he said.
In the March 2011 raids, federal agents searched 26 homes, businesses and warehouses across Montana related to medical marijuana operations. Montana Cannabis was one of those targeted, with its nursery in Helena, office in Billings and the Flors’ home targeted.
Besides Flor, two other Montana Cannabis co-founders were recently arrested. A third, lobbyist and patient advocate Tom Daubert, has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
Agents who searched the Flors’ home found canisters and packages of marijuana in the living room, with an assortment of loaded handguns, shotguns and semiautomatic assault rifles within easy reach. More guns were found in the bedroom and in a car in the garage, and an assault rifle was photographed hanging in the pantry next to a shelf with a box of crackers.
Richard Flor’s attorney had argued that Flor had permits for the 28 weapons that were confiscated, and belonged to a gun club, so his possession of them should not factor in his sentence. Kristin Flor told the judge that the guns were out only to be cleaned.
Lovell wasn’t buying it. “You simply don’t clean a loaded weapon,” he said.
Richard Flor’s health
Kristin Flor said her father’s health deteriorated after the raids, and she thought that was due in part to his belief that he had been betrayed by the government.
“Before the raids, my dad could carry on a conversation. He could function,” she said. “After the raids, he started to lose it.”
Richard Flor last fall was evaluated by a federal psychologist who concluded that he suffers from dementia, depression and a number of other medical conditions. While he was being evaluated, Flor was held in a general prison population and fractured four ribs after he fell out of his bed, Kristin Flor said.
She pleaded for leniency, saying her father needs 24-hour care and asked Lovell to let her take care of him at her home in Tacoma, Wash. Arndorfer backed that request.
“If we put him in prison, he isn’t going to live a year. So what have we accomplished?” the attorney said.
Lovell denied the request, though he did say Richard Flor’s condition factored into his sentence.
The Flors will be on probation after their release from prison and they must give up their home, six vehicles and trailers and the guns that were confiscated. They also were ordered to pay $288,000 in exchange for the money they made manufacturing and distributing marijuana.