By Bonnie Davidson
The Courier 

Eastern State Drug Prosecution Program Comes to a Close

 


As funding was cut, funding was not renewed for the drug prosecution program that helped 17 eastern counties in Montana. The program helped create forms, documentation and provided research for law enforcement and attorneys.

Valley County Attorney Nick Murnion explained that the funding came from JAG (Justice Assistance Grant) and the trainings and resources that came from the two years the program ran have been invaluable. As the coordinator of the program, Diane Cochran, prepares to finish up the program, she’s providing trainings, a drug prosecution manual, digital sales and updated testing kits for law enforcement.

“Northeast Montana finally got some service in the area they really needed,” Murnion said.

Cochran explained that the best practices manual that was created from her few years of work will be distributed to the 17 counties she’s been working for. She said that the manual is an overview on drug case, with information on interviewing and prosecution in drug crimes. Chapters in the manual cover working with informants, testifying in court, forms, information on search warrants and how to apply the law to certain cases. She said that the book has around 80 pages, without including forms.


Now that her time is up they’re using the last of the funding to help out local authorities, the testing kits and scales are one avenue, but they’re also bringing in some extra training and wrapping up any questions that may need answered. Cochran said that had the grant continued, there would have been things she could have continued helping with, but the biggest success was is the manual.

She said that in some areas in the eastern part of the state it was the first time that education classes came to law enforcement in Sidney, Circle, Plentywood, Miles City, Wolf Point, Forsyth and more.

Some of the questions she answered for law enforcement will be used in the information that was dispersed. One example she gave was a question on whether medical marijuana being sold as part of a business would be legal. Cochran said that a recent ruling changed things a little and set a precedent. The answer was complicated, but it came with a yes. The attorney general’s office advised that they were still awaiting an appeal of the state supreme court.

“I’m able to field questions, do the research and save agencies time,” Cochran said. “I’m hoping we’ve laid down a good foundation and it will hopefully have a lasting impact.”

It’s a resource that will be missed locally as both the city and county law enforcement agencies used it. Those questions she fielded will be placed on a hard drive for law enforcement. Deputy Reed Mesman explained that he utilized the program by asking question about marijuana in particular, where legislature and law are always shifting around. He said he was able to ask specific questions and get guidance. He also explained that the manual will be a good quick reference for law enforcement trying to look up specific laws.


“She was a great resource for law enforcement and the Tri-Agency Task Force,” Mesman said, referring to the local drug task force.

The program will end with a program presented by Kevin Sabet, author of “Refer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana.” Sebet will be presenting “Clear Thinking About Drug Policy: The Truth About Marijuana” on June 9 in Billings. Law enforcement across the state will be able to attend for POST credits at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Sabet also directs the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida and is the co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. He has also advised presidents on the drug policy.

Cochran will finish up her program on June 30 and said that she’s looking at continuing in prosecution. She had experience as a journalist and ended up in law school. She said that she’s back on the job market as a licensed attorney.

 

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