Jonathan Janetski is a 43-year-old landlord and general contractor.
He has no criminal history, no history of drug use, never found himself at odds with the law.
But now, after a federal drug raid, he is facing up to three years in prison over a medical marijuana operation that was run in compliance with Montana law.
Except Janetski didn’t run the business. He wasn’t an employee of the business and had no direct connection to the business in any way.
He was just the landlord.
“Initially, he got these people into the building with the idea that he was going to sell the building,” Janetski’s attorney, Todd Glazier, said. “As part of that, he was going to help them get the building into any shape they needed it to be. He was a general contractor and had some electrician experience, so he agreed to do some of the work to get all of their electrical stuff set up.”
His reason for wanting to sell the building was to raise money for an operation. Janetski has no health insurance and found out about two and a half years ago that one of the valves in his heart wasn’t working properly and required surgery.
So Janetski decided to allow Michael Kassner, 24, and Tyler Roe, 29, both of Kalispell, to open the marijuana growing facility in his building. They operated the business for about six months until the March 14, 2011, federal raid.
“When the feds came in and started doing the raids, for whatever reason, they thought that he was part of the operation,” Glazier said. “Later, when they found out he was just a landlord, and I don’t know if it was just arrogance on behalf of the Justice Department, they decided they weren’t going to back off and charged him under maintaining a drug-involved premises.”
According to U.S. Code, it is illegal to “knowingly open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place, whether permanently or temporarily, for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance.”
Janetski pleaded guilty to the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. He likely will face between 30 and 36 months in prison, according to Glazier, when he is sentenced on April 19.
Glazier said he is troubled by several aspects of the case, beginning with the fact that while Janetski is facing up to three years in prison, both Kassner and Roe were only sentenced to one year and one day in prison. Kassner also will serve three years of supervised release and Roe will serve seven.
Another point Glazier pressed was that Janetski sought legal advice and did research before allowing his building to be used as it was. He contacted an attorney first and asked if what was proposed to him by Kassner and Roe was legal under state law, which was confirmed.
He also reviewed statements made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder during an appearance in Missoula in which he addressed the enforcement of federal law against medical marijuana users.
According to Glazier, Holder’s comments gave the impression that the Justice Department would not prosecute medical marijuana cases as long as participants were compliant with Montana law.
“He came here and promised something and [the Justice Department] turned around and did the exact opposite of what he promised, and that’s a problem,” Glazier said. He later added “I think that’s a pretty large breach of ethics.”
Glazier’s own transcript of Holder’s statements (completed by his secretary), however, refers only to medical marijuana users, leaving the arena of growers and dispensaries a gray area.
“I made the determination early on that in those states that had passed such laws that we would not use the scarce federal resources that we have in going after people using medical marijuana in a way that is consistent with those laws,” Holder said in response to a question on the Justice Department’s position on state medical marijuana programs.
Holder went on to say that the department would not allow those laws “to be used in a way to cover activity that was clearly criminal in nature,” trafficking marijuana. In those cases, he said, “we are going to make an example of you, we are going to use our federal prosecutors in the best way to come after you.”
As far as Glazier knows, Janetski is the only landlord in Montana being prosecuted.
Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.