Firebombs target 2 medical-marijuana businesses
May 10, 2010
Two medical marijuana businesses in Billings were firebombed and
tagged with graffiti reading "NOT IN OUR TOWN" over the last two
days, rattling their owners and leaving others outraged in advance of
a City Council meeting to decide whether to restrict the industry's growth.
"It's ugly, and it was a hate crime," said David Couch, owner of Big
Sky Patient Care, one of the two medical marijuana providers
vandalized in the last two days.
On Monday, the graffiti had been removed from the storefront's
windows, which are decorated with paintings by Couch's 6-year-old
granddaughter. But shattered glass and broken decorative vases still
littered the pebbled concrete of the business's main entry.
The store in the Rimrock Mini Mall at 111 S. 24th St. W. was hit
early Sunday while its owner was celebrating Mother's Day with his
wife on a trip to Fort Smith. A second medical marijuana business,
Montana Therapeutics, was hit early Monday at 2109 Grand Ave.
As of Monday afternoon, police said they had no leads or suspects in
the incidents, which were estimated to have caused several thousands
of dollars in damage.
"We need to plan on being more vigilant around these businesses,"
said Billings Police Sgt. Kevin Iffland.
In recent weeks, the Billings City Council has heard impassioned
debate about medical marijuana while considering whether to impose a
moratorium on new cannabis providers in the city limits. A rapid rise
in both the number of medical marijuana users and providers
including about 80 businesses with licenses in Billings has
prompted efforts to develop zoning regulations and other restrictions
Brandy Hodges, one of four owners of Montana Therapeutics, said they
support efforts to restrict the opening of marijuana businesses near
schools, and clarify other issues, such as how to measure the amount
of marijuana in edible products.
"It's tough to know that you're doing it right when there's so much
gray area," Hodges said. But, she said, marijuana businesses should
not be banned from city limits after voters approved their operation
in a 2004 ballot measure.
As she spoke, the 31-year-old Billings native sat at a table that had
been moved out of the business's waiting room a now empty area with
a charred, waterlogged carpet and a nearby window spray-painted to
read "not in our town."
"It's just as much my town as anybody else's town," Hodges said.
The message scrawled across the storefronts' windows "Not In Our
Town" mirrors the name of an anti-hate-group that has been active
in Billings for years. Eran Thompson, the director of that
organization, said board members are discussing whether to campaign
against the firebombings as they have against violence directed at
religious groups and ethnicities.
"For someone to co-opt our message in this way is really sickening to
us," Thompson said.
Video surveillance of the firebombing at Big Sky Patient Care shows
two people wearing hoods outside the storefront at about 5
a.m. Within a minute, one uses spray paint to vandalize a window,
while the other uses a projectile to start a fire in the store's entry.
According to the police, both a soft-ball-sized rock and fragments
from a glass liquor bottle were found inside.
Iffland said the owner of Big Sky Patient Care was talking to his
attorneys before turning video surveillance footage over to police.
Big Sky Patient Care has only been open at the mall location for a
few weeks, but it has held its municipal license since January, Couch
said. Montana Therapeutics also opened months ago, making it unlikely
either business would be affected by a moratorium passed by the
Billings City Council.
Still, owners of both dispensaries fear municipal governments may
unfairly subject the new industry to draconian rules.
"You're not inventing the wheel here," Couch said. "Rather than make
an intelligent recommendation, which is what they should do, they're
just going to slam the door."
Contact Kahrin Deines at email@example.com or 657-1392.