Once again, federal law enforcement is cracking down on medical marijuana businesses. On Thursday, just as Gov. Chris Gregoire was considering a veto of a bill that would establish the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington, federal agents raided several Spokane dispensaries.
Technically, these actions were in step with the Ogden memo, since Washington’s medical marijuana law does not explicitly allow and regulate dispensaries. Earlier this month, however, U.S. Attorneys warned Gov. Gregoire that they could still prosecute any medical marijuana businesses, even if they were allowed under the proposed bill. This prompted the governor to threaten a veto of the bill.
As if to illustrate their point, the DEA decided to start raids at a critical legislative juncture, which can only serve to compound the fears of nervous lawmakers and the governor.
Legislators should not allow this intimidation to affect their judgment. Several states have established licensed medical marijuana industries without seeing the type of aggression we are witnessing here. The key point to remember is that there is still no indication that the feds will go after medical marijuana businesses in states that have already established their legality. This means we need to pass laws protecting safe access as soon as possible!
Governor Brian Schweitzer stood up for the voters, medical marijuana patients, and their caregivers Wednesday when he declared his intent to issue an amendatory veto for SB 423. This bill would have drastically hindered the ability of seriously ill patients to become qualified for the program and would have eliminated the bustling legitimate medical marijuana industry, forcing patients to grow their own or resort to the illicit market. Schweitzer said he will send the bill back with amendments that allow strictly licensed commercial growing and distribution, as well as protect the privacy of patients.
The governor stated that the bill, as written and passed by the House and Senate, is unconstitutional. He also expressed disappointment in the legislature for wasting nearly the entire session trying to thwart the will of Montana voters by passing bills that are nothing but repeal in disguise.
Schweitzer said he doesn't believe the bill will survive a legal challenge.
"I'm kind of disgusted right now," he said...
… Schweitzer criticized the Legislature for managing to "squander away" most of the 90-day legislative session before sending him the bill. He said lawmakers already know it's unconstitutional, which is why they put a "severability clause" in it, saying if a court strikes down part of the bill, the rest stands. Severability clauses are common in complex bills.
"Why don't you just pass something that works, that's constitutional and that can survive the test of time?" he asked.
If the legislature does not transmit the bill in time for an amendatory veto, Gov. Schweitzer will be forced to either veto it outright or allow it to become law. From his statements, it’s not hard to guess which way he’s leaning.
In addition, it appears that the governor of Montana did not overreact to recent statements from U.S. Attorneys in Washington that the federal government could prosecute medical marijuana businesses and state employees involved in licensing them. Unlike Gov. Gregoire, he probably looked at the absence of such prosecutions in states like Rhode Island, Maine, Colorado, and New Mexico, all of which have state-licensed dispensaries. Just because the Department of Justice says they can go after marijuana businesses does not mean that they will, and the experiences of these states suggest that they are not likely to do so, particularly in states that have clear regulations allowing dispensaries.
Let’s all reach out and thank Governor Schweitzer for treating medical marijuana in a rational, principled, and compassionate manner. If he keeps standing up for the will of the people of Montana, his re-election is “guar-an-dang-teed!”