Two and half years ago, the Montana legislature gutted the 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana law and replaced it with a law that got as close to repeal as possible. Since then, the state has been fighting in the courts to defend its ill-considered law. Victory was finally handed to Montana patients this month when the presiding judge ruled that caregivers can continue to operate under the state’s marginally functional system. This means they can continue serving an unlimited number of patients — not just the three that the 2011 law allowed, in addition to other important provisions.
While the ruling allows patients at least some access to their medicine, it falls short of the sensible medical marijuana dispensary system that patients deserve, and that almost every other medical marijuana state now has.
Don’t allow the Montana legislature to ignore its responsibility to protect its citizens. Please pass this message to friends, family, and supporters and ask them to send a clear message to their state legislators!
Montana Judge Protects Medical Marijuana Program, but More Work Needed
Rob Kampia: What Can We Learn from DOJ Memo?
Last week, the Department of Justice announced that it would not prioritize marijuana enforcement against businesses that were following state law and adhering to a set of criteria established by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Given the administration’s history with marijuana policy, there is a lot of speculation about what this memo will mean for the future of reform efforts and the legal marijuana industries in Colorado and Washington, as well as the 20 states and the District of Columbia that allow marijuana for medical purposes.
Here is an excerpt from an in-depth analysis by MPP’s executive director Rob Kampia in the Los Angeles Times:
The Cole memo was the equivalent of no policy at all, since the federal government goes after very few individual marijuana users. In 2012, it sentenced only 83 marijuana-possession offenders to probation or prison, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Meanwhile, the DEA raided more medical marijuana providers during Obama’s first term in office than it did during the eight years under President George W. Bush.
So what can we learn from the Obama administration’s words and actions?
The key lesson is to write state-level marijuana laws correctly. There have been hundreds of outrageous DEA raids on medical marijuana clinics in California, Montana and Washington state, but these three states’ laws don’t explicitly authorize the clinics in the first place. (These states simply authorize patients and caregivers to grow their own.)
In contrast, there have been zero DEA raids on clinics in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont. In these states, plus the District of Columbia, there has been a clear licensing process for medical marijuana businesses.
MPP’s Worst State Legislators of 2013
MPP released a video last week listing the country’s “Worst State Legislators of 2013” on marijuana policy issues. The seven state representatives and one state senator were selected based on their legislative efforts to maintain or expand marijuana prohibition policies, as well as statements they made, during the 2013 legislative sessions. Watch the video countdown below.
The Huffington Post reports:
The video counts down the MPP’s top eight marijuana policy offenders, alongside some direct quotes that are questionable, to say the least.
Take, for instance, Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), who called bongs and pipes “utensils of death;” Rep. Luke Malek (R-Coeur d’Alene) who called medical marijuana a “farcical predatory scheme;” and Rep. David Howard (R-Park City) — whose home state of Montana has been battling a crippling meth epidemic — who called marijuana a “poison” and “the most dangerous drug there is.”
The list also garnered some local media attention in Colorado, where the #1 worst legislator of 2013, Sen. John Morse (D), is facing a highly talked-about recall election, and in Iowa, where the #7 worst legislator, Rep. Clel Baudler (R), bragged about being listed.
“Code of the West” illustrates need for sensible regulation
Of the 17 states that have passed medical marijuana laws, only one — Montana — has experienced a serious legislative effort to repeal the law.
How could this have happened, and what can advocates in other states learn from Montana’s experiences?
Fortunately for those of us who work to pass — and improve — medical marijuana laws, an excellent new documentary film provides a unique and insightful view of Montana’s 2011 repeal effort. Code of the West, directed and produced by Rebecca Richman Cohen, recently made its debut and is now being screened at film festivals and other venues across the United States.
I had the honor of presenting Code of the West at its New Hampshire debut Friday evening at the New Hampshire Film Festival in Portsmouth. As an MPP legislative analyst monitoring the ongoing action in Montana, I was familiar with the events depicted, but seeing these events unfold on the big screen — against the stunning backdrop of Montana’s rugged mountains — provides a more complete experience than any number of newspaper articles could possibly supply.
In a nutshell, the repeal advocates depicted in Code of the West are appalled by the proliferation of unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana and by the ease with which non-patients appear to be qualifying for medical marijuana cards. Instead of seeking regulations to curb these perceived abuses, they lead an organized effort to repeal the law.
Despite being a very well-made film, a few scenes in Code of the West are difficult to watch:
- One repeal-supporting legislator foolishly compares medical marijuana to the deadly poison arsenic.
- A grandmother suffering from advanced cancer loses access to medical marijuana and is left with no choice but to manage her pain with morphine.
- A repeal supporter admits that some seriously ill patients benefit from medical marijuana but continues pushing — not for regulation and restrictions to prevent abuse, but for a full repeal.
The film’s main subjects are medical marijuana advocates led by Tom Daubert — a well-respected political professional whose life is turned upside-down by an unjust federal prosecution — and repeal advocates led by a group of concerned parents and Montana House Speaker Mike Milburn.
Although the attempt at full repeal does not succeed, the film does not have a happy ending for patients and their advocates, as legislators resist common sense efforts to regulate the medical marijuana industry. Instead, they opt to pass SB 423, an ultra-restrictive “repeal in disguise” that will dramatically limit patients’ access.
A year after the film’s action concludes, Montana’s struggle to achieve a sane medical marijuana policy continues, and many conflicts described in the film remain unresolved.
Despite his efforts to pass regulations and improve Montana’s medical marijuana law, federal prosecutors brought felony charges against Daubert for his involvement with a medical marijuana dispensary, giving him little choice but to plead guilty. In September, Judge Dana Christenson ignored prosecutors’ request for a lengthy prison term and instead sentenced Daubert to five years of probation.
Another of the film’s subjects, Daubert’s former business partner Chris Williams, was recently convicted on eight felony counts and, astonishingly, faces mandatory minimum sentences that could keep him incarcerated for life. Williams’ attorney is currently seeking a new trial. Sadly, yet another of Daubert’s former business partners, Richard Flor, was sentenced to a five-year prison term earlier this year and died in federal custody August 30 after being denied medical care that had been recommended by a judge.
Fortunately, Montana voters will have an opportunity to reject the legislature’s “repeal in disguise” when they go to the polls Nov. 6. Regardless of how Montana’s IR-124 fares at the ballot box, Montana’s legislature should learn from the experiences portrayed in Code of the West and pass sensible regulations for medical marijuana providers in 2013.
For more information on Code of the West, including how to schedule a screening in a town near you, click here. If you submit a request, you’ll receive more details, including information on screening fees and the option to preview the film.
Montana Medical Marijuana Pioneer Gets Probation, No Jail
Yesterday, Montana medical marijuana activist Tom Daubert was sentenced to five years of probation by a federal judge for his involvement in a medical marijuana access point that was raided by federal agents early last year. That operation was one of 26 locations that were raided simultaneously throughout Montana by federal agents in an effort to destroy the state’s burgeoning and predominantly lawful medical marijuana industry.
Daubert has been actively fighting for medical marijuana patients’ rights since 2004. He began his work on the issue as the consultant for MPP’s campaign committee during the successful initiative campaign. Since then, he has worked tirelessly in the state capitol and with local law enforcement to ensure the future of medical marijuana and maintain good relations with lawmakers and police. He even invited them to tour the facility, which is documented in the film “Code of the West.”
Tom Daubert was fortunate not to receive any prison time, even though any punishment is far too heavy a sentence for merely trying to make sure that seriously ill people have safe access to their medicine. His former partner Richard Flor was treated far more harshly. On August 30, while serving a five-year sentence in federal prison, Flor died after suffering two heart attacks and other medical problems. His transfer to a facility that may have been able to treat his numerous health conditions had been delayed for months.
Meanwhile, several other providers and former staffers are still in prison — including Richard’s wife and son. Others are still facing trial or sentencing.
We at MPP wish Tom the best and thank him for everything he has done.
Tom Daubert Is Not a Criminal
A dedicated marijuana policy reform advocate who was instrumental to enacting Montana’s medical marijuana law has become the latest victim of Pres. Obama’s heartless war on medical marijuana. Tom Daubert, a friend and colleague, will plead guilty to maintaining a drug-involved premises — a medical marijuana dispensary called Montana Cannabis.
Tom has seen what can happen to people who don’t have access to the only medicine that gives them relief. In 2004, he worked hand-in-hand with patients to educate voters and editorial boards to make medical marijuana legal under state law. One of the most vocal patients, Robin Prosser, had an excruciating lupus-like illness and was allergic to prescription medications. She went on a 60-day hunger strike for medical marijuana in 2002. Months before Election Day, she attempted suicide because she didn’t have access to the one medicine that worked for her.
After the initiative passed, Robin found a caregiver who shipped her the strain of medical marijuana she needed from another part of the state. The DEA intercepted a package, and the caregiver became too afraid to send more marijuana. No other strain worked for Robin, and she couldn’t take the pain any more. In 2007, she took her own life. Tom led a memorial and started the Robin Prosser Memorial Patients’ Legal Defense Fund.
In 2008, it looked like there was finally hope for patients and those who helped them. During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said federal resources wouldn’t be used to circumvent state medical marijuana laws. His Department of Justice advised federal agents not to target those in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state medical marijuana laws. Attorney General Eric Holder testified to Congress that threatening dispensaries in Colorado that complied with state law would not be consistent with that advice.
So Tom and hundreds of other people across the country took the president at his word and set about providing patients with safe access to medical marijuana. Tom’s dispensary did all it could to be transparent, responsible, and above board. It invited legislators and local law enforcement in for tours, including while being filmed for the documentary Code of the West. Never in any of these tours did state and local law enforcement leaders express anything but admiration and support for the ways Tom’s approach surpassed both the spirit and letter of the state law and was in full and clear compliance and conformance with Montana community standards. Tom also advocated for the state legislature to regulate and register dispensaries.
Then, without warning, the federal government raided Montana Cannabis and more than 20 other medical marijuana-related sites the same day a state Senate committee voted down a bill to repeal the voter-enacted medical marijuana law Tom helped enact. Some other Montana providers have pled guilty or are fighting charges. Others have been raided, prosecuted, and/or threatened by the federal government in California, Washington, and Michigan for the crime of providing a medicine to sick people … a medicine that unlike Tylenol and Vicodin has never caused a fatal overdose. Meanwhile, in July, the DEA rejected a petition to reschedule marijuana, maintaining the offensive fiction that marijuana has no “currently accepted medical use” in the United States despite numerous studies to the contrary and thousands of physicians recommending medical marijuana to more than half a million patients.
If you would like the federal government stop to burying its head in the sand, driving desperate patients to suicide, and making criminals out of those who dare to help them, please write Pres. Obama and your members of Congress. If his offensive against medical marijuana patients and providers will affect your willingness to donate to, vote for, or volunteer for the president, please let his campaign know.
Attorney General Insists Medical Marijuana Not a Priority
At a hearing discussing the controversy surrounding Operation Fast & Furious, which allowed numerous firearms to be transferred to operatives for Mexican drug cartels, the attorney general got some questions on another drug war problem: the crackdown on medical marijuana.
Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) asked Attorney General Holder if the Department of Justice intended to leave medical marijuana states alone as was promised in the Ogden Memo in 2009, as well as whether the recent crackdown in California on medical marijuana providers would be extended to other states.
Holder’s response was the same one that has been parroted by the administration again and again: medical marijuana is not an enforcement priority, given the department’s limited resources.
If that is true, what are the U.S. attorneys in California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Michigan doing? It seems as if they’ve been spending a lot of time and effort on a “low priority” lately.
Is Holder lying, or has he let the dogs at DOJ off the leash while he tries to explain why the federal government allowed guns to “walk” into Mexico that were later used to murder U.S. law enforcement agents? Read the rest of this entry »
Nevada Medical Marijuana Patient Suing Federal Government After Being Denied Gun Purchase
In late September, I wrote about the letter sent by the ATF to all federally licensed firearms dealers, explaining that it was illegal to sell guns or ammunition to state-licensed medical marijuana users.
The reasoning behind this was a clause in the Federal Firearms Act that states that a person cannot purchase or possess a gun if they are “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana, or any depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.” The ATF reminded gun dealers that marijuana is still illegal according to the federal government, and that having a medical marijuana license was proof that a person fit the definition of an unlawful user or addict. Of course, a state-licensed patient is a lawful user as far as the state is concerned, but as we have seen, the feds do not care all that much about state law.
In a debate between MPP’s Steve Fox and former head of the ATF Mike Sullivan, Sullivan repeatedly claimed that the ATF’s hands were tied in this matter. Contrary to the claims that the ATF is simply reminding gun dealers about the law, the ATF actually has the discretion to define what they consider to be an “unlawful user.” In the absence of a court decision clarifying the definition, the ATF had every right to issue a memo that instead declared state-legal medical marijuana users to be lawful users and exempt from this particular status. Instead, they decided to use the vague law as a cover to deny sick people their constitutional right to bear arms.
Well, it looks like this might get cleared up in the (reasonably) near future.
On Oct. 4, outspoken Nevada medical marijuana advocate Rowan Wilson was denied purchase of a handgun due to her status as a patient. On Oct. 17, she and her attorney announced that she is suing the ATF and the federal government.
If this case goes to trial, federal judges will have the ability to determine whether patients in jurisdictions that allow the medical use of marijuana are, in fact, unlawful users pursuant to federal firearms laws.
Let’s hope they side with Ms. Wilson.
So far, gun rights activist groups like the National Rifle Association have been largely silent on this issue, but smaller organizations such as the Montana Shooting Sports Association and the Independent Firearms Owners of America have offered their support.
When asked why gun rights activists should support medical marijuana patients in this instance, IFOA president Richard Feldman said, “Republicans, Conservatives and independents need to face the dire economic realities facing our nation and stop funding programs like the war on drugs that don’t work, corrupt law enforcement and grow criminal enterprises. Our experience with alcohol prohibition teaches us how to lessen both the harm and the costs to society from banning substances which otherwise law abiding individuals will pursue. As gun owners many of us subscribe to the maxim, ‘Better to be caught by the police with one, than by a gang banger without one’! It’s time American face reality, deal with it intelligently, and stop protesting it, regardless of the ‘it’ being guns or marijuana.”
Montana Fights Back Against State, Federal Attacks on Medical Marijuana Patients
In an act of outright legislative interference, S.B. 423, “repeal in disguise,” promised to regulate but instead flouted voters’ wishes and cruelly and arbitrarily gutted Montana’s medical marijuana program, shuttering most providers and reducing the number of patients. By mid-August, the number of patients had dropped by 10% and only 1% of medical marijuana providers remained in business, leaving patients without access to medicine.
However, Montanans have fought back. First, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association got a judge to temporarily block implementation of part of the law. Even more excitingly, Patients for Reform — Not Repeal successfully collected enough signatures to put a referendum to overturn S.B. 423 on the November 2012 ballot! The Secretary of State confirmed that the referendum had already exceeded the minimum signature requirements, and organizers announced they collected more than 46,000 signatures. Kudos to the petitioners; we will keep you updated!
Sadly, another legislative move overturning the will of the people, H.B. 391, went into effect on Saturday. It is intended to overturn Missoula County’s Initiative 2, which made marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. As a result, local initiatives may not de-prioritize the enforcement of state law. Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who pushed for the bill, says he will move forward with prosecution of marijuana misdemeanors.
Luckily, many Montanans are very upset by these attempts to overturn the will of the voters, and are lending support to the medical marijuana community. Even the Attorney General Steve Bullock is speaking out, although more so about the ATF announcing that it is illegal for medical marijuana patients to purchase or possess firearms.
Rand Study Shows Closing Dispensaries Increases Crime
In medical marijuana states, it is pretty common to hear sensational news reports about crime associated with dispensaries. Stories of violent robberies, late-night burglaries, diversion and illegal sales, weapons, and even murder get a lot of attention from the media. They get even more attention from law enforcement, who see such stories as yet another way to convince people that medical marijuana is dangerous and scary and should be revoked.
Law enforcement is so desperate to prove this connection between dispensaries and crime that they searched all over the country for data that would support their hypothesis.
Lo and behold, it turns out the exact opposite is true.
Today, the non-partisan Rand Corporation released a study on crime near dispensaries conducted in Los Angeles before and after a recent ordinance forced the closure of nearly 400 locations. According to the report, crime increased by as much as 54% in the areas surrounding dispensaries that were forced to close within ten days of the ordinance going into effect. Neighborhoods near dispensaries that stayed open showed no increase in crime during that period.
We at MPP have been saying for some time that by closing dispensaries in medical marijuana states (or localities, even), authorities are driving patients into the illicit market. While I would hesitate to call such an act a crime, as opposed to a necessity, this study apparently shows that other sorts of crime are affected by the presence of dispensaries. Some contributing factors include the large volume of people there throughout the day, the security measures put in place to protect patients and employees, and the fact that the police actually depend on dispensary video surveillance to prevent and solve crimes!
Authorities should take note of this information, particularly in places like Michigan and Montana, where the medical marijuana industries have been all but shut down recently by overzealous public officials and community groups. Most of these groups depended on overblown concerns about community safety for their efforts to be successful. It’s time for a little education.