Archive for the ‘montana’ category
If American society’s tolerance for marijuana is now growing, then what happened in Montana illustrates just what can happen when the government decides things have gone too far. Pot advocates were running caravans, helping hundreds of residents in a day get medical marijuana user cards. Some doctors who conducted cursory exams on scores of people were fined. As the number of users quickly grew, so did a retail industry that led some to dub the state “Big High Country.”
Today, thousands of medical pot providers have gone out of business, and a health department survey showed that the number of registered users have fallen to less than a quarter of their 2011 numbers.
The drop was driven in part by a tougher 2011 law on medical marijuana use and distribution. But more than anything, marijuana advocates say, the demise of the once-booming medical pot industry was the result of the largest federal drug-trafficking investigation in the state’s industry.
The three-year investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies wrapped up last week when the last of 33 convicted defendants was sentenced. That allowed its architect, U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter, to speak publicly for the first time on the crackdown.
“For a long time, we were hearing complaints from local law enforcement and from citizens … that they were tired of marijuana and they were tired of it next to schools, to churches, people smoking it openly on the streets,” Cotter said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“It was just something that had to be done,” he said. “And the result of doing it the way that we did, it was a strong statement that marijuana wasn’t going to be tolerated in Montana.”
Cotter said he believes he is on the right side of history, regardless of what is happening in the country. Last fall, voters in Colorado and Washington state passed laws to legalize recreational pot use, and a Pew Research Center poll released last month found 52 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal.
The Justice Department has yet to decide whether to sue in federal court to block Colorado and Washington’s laws under the legal argument that federal laws outlawing any use, possession or distribution of marijuana prevail over state laws.
In Montana, what started out as a system to provide marijuana to those with health problems turned the state into a source for drug trafficking, Cotter said. The industry had ballooned so much and so quickly that drug traffickers were operating under the guise of medicinal caregivers, and the pot was being sent to users in New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado and other states, he said.
Now, marijuana is still in Montana, but it’s manageable, he said.
The investigations were split geographically into three parts: Operation Smokejumper, Operation Weed Be Gone and Operation Noxious Weed. They targeted medical marijuana providers dealing in more than 100 plants and came away with 34 indictments, from a longtime state lobbyist to a former University of Montana quarterback.
Most of those arrested argued at first that they were following the state’s medical marijuana law. When federal prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard, successfully squelched that argument in court, all but three of the providers made plea deals.
The federal Controlled Substances Act, which bans any distribution or use of marijuana, trumps state law, Thaggard said. Besides, the investigation found that none of the defendants was following state law, he added.
“I think that we were confident that if we had to go down that road, we would show just how out of compliance these people were,” Thaggard said.
The final scorecard: 33 convictions. Thirty-one made plea deals, two went to trial and lost and the case against the accountant of a provider was dismissed.
Federal prosecutors in other states watched closely as the probe unfolded in Montana, and was widely seen as a success and possibly a model for others, Cotter said.
“Speaking through enforcement action does have the deterrent effect that is needed,” Cotter said. “It had the effect that we were looking for, and that was to deter the trafficking of marijuana.”
Montana Cannabis Information Association spokesman and Marijuana Policy Project lobbyist Chris Lindsey — who also was one of the 33 providers convicted in the probe — agreed the federal investigation was the main driver in changing the shape of the industry.
But a federal crackdown won’t stem the tide of the public will, he said.
Montana residents are increasingly in favor of improving the medical marijuana laws so there is better regulation and better access for those who need it, Lindsey said. “In Montana, it seems our options have only been the wild, wild West or no activity at all. Ultimately, we will be in the middle,” Lindsey said.
Cotter and DEA Agent in Charge Brady MacKay, who led much of the investigation, dispute that medical marijuana is beneficial for the seriously ill. They say patients who need the relief that marijuana provides should get it from Marinol, a prescription drug that contains some of the properties of marijuana.
“I think it’s Madison Avenue marketing, the person who dreamed up tying medical and marijuana together,” Cotter said. “It’s a powerful marketing tool. But the fact of the matter remains that marijuana is a dangerous drug and it’s harmful to people,” Cotter said.
Despite several attempts by the media and policy makers to associate the rising number of state regulated medical marijuana programs (and popular legalization efforts) with a rise in use and a drop in associated risk, the 2012 Monitoring the Future Survey reports that there was no rise in daily or annual marijuana use among teens. According to the report, “annual marijuana use [among 8th, 10th and 12th graders] showed no further increase in any of the three grades surveyed in 2012… [And the] daily use of marijuana…remained essentially flat.” Also of note, despite the sharp decline in perceived risk of marijuana use across all three grades, there was a statistically significant decline of use among 8th graders. These numbers are consistent with other recent studies showing that states with regulated marijuana programs have not seen an increase in teen use. Some have even seen a decrease in pot use among their youth population.
“This study suggests that exposure among teens to the concept of marijuana regulation policies (one third of whom live in such states) does not cause an increase in use. It is also important to consider that a drop in perceived risk is likely associated with their rejection of the overzealous scare tactics used in most schools’ drug education programs” said Sabrina Fendrick of the NORML Women’s Alliance.
It is important to note, however, that marijuana use rates and availability nationwide remain at relatively high levels, while alcohol use rates remain historically low. This is most likely due to the fact that the former is illegal and thereby not subject to government controls, while the latter substance is legally restricted to adults only. The same goes for tobacco. We did not have to outlaw cigarettes to reduce the use among minors. A policy of education and regulation (not prohibition) has created an environment in which cigarette usage has fallen to an all time low. According to the principal investigator of the study, Lloyd Johnston, “[A] lowering teen smoking rates…likely…depend[s] on…changes such as raising cigarette taxes, further limiting where smoking is permitted, bringing back broad-based anti-smoking ad campaigns, and making quit-smoking programs more available.” It has been proven that age restrictions, coupled with the imposition of government regulation and education are the most effective at reducing youth access to adult-only recreational substances. According to the 2011 MFS report, the drop in alcohol use can be attributed to a strict regulation scheme that include educational campaigns focusing on responsible use and age restrictions which, in turn, lowers availability.
The report concluded; “In the 1980’s a number of states raised their minimum drinking age to twenty-one, which these researches were able to demonstrate reduced drinking.” It goes on to say “the proportion of 8th and 10th graders who say they could get alcohol ‘fairly easily’ or ‘very easily’ had been declining since 1996 and continued to drop in all three grades in 2011. Various other factors of likely importance include…higher beer taxes and restrictions on alcohol promotion to youth.” The 2012 survey reported that again, “there was no increase in perceived availability of alcohol.”
One can therefore conclude that the only sensible answer to restricting marijuana access to [as well as use among] minors is through state and local government regulation and a message of moderation.
[Update: By 1:15PM (eastern) the 25,000th signature put this White House pardon petition for Chris Williams over the top. Thank you!]
At the dawn of the cannabis legalization epoch that was ushered in on election night when the commonsense-minded voters of both Colorado and Washington elected to end cannabis prohibition in their respective states, let’s not forget that the criminal justice system in the United States is still chewing up the lives of another cannabis consumer, seller or cultivator every thirty-eight seconds in America (based on approximately 760,000 annual cannabis arrests).
Almost 25,000 of our fellow citizens concerned with this kind of expensive and wasteful injustice have signed a White House petition asking President Obama to pardon Montana medical cannabis provider Chris Williams, who is currently facing a potential eighty year federal prison sentence.
This presidential pardon petition is getting very close to the 25,000 signatures needed to be acted upon by the Obama Administration, please take a moment, sign the petition and send the clear message to President Obama and his staff: Stop arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating citizens involved in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs!
Thank you in advance!!
Voters in Colorado and Washington on Election Day in favor of ballot measures that remove criminal and civil penalties for the adult possession of cannabis. The votes mark the first time ever that voters have decided at the ballot box to abolish cannabis prohibition.
In Colorado, 55 percent of voters decided in favor of Amendment 64, which allows for the legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and/or the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants by those persons age 21 and over. Longer-term, the measure seeks to establish regulations governing the commercial production and distribution of marijuana by licensed retailers. Initial returns show the measure passing with 54 percent support.
In Washington, approximately 55 percent of voters decided in favor of I-502, which regulates the production and sale of limited amounts of marijuana for adults. The measure also removes criminal penalties specific to the adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use. Initial returns indicate that 55 percent of voters backed the measure.
State lawmakers in Colorado initially prohibited the possession of cannabis in 1917. Washington lawmakers initially outlawed the plant in 1923.
Commenting on the historic votes, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 provide adult cannabis consumers with unprecedented legal protections. Until now, no state law has defined cannabis as a legal commodity. Some state laws do provide for a legal exception that allows for certain qualified patients to possess specific amounts of cannabis as needed. But, until today, no state in modern history has classified cannabis itself as a legal product that may be lawfully possessed and consumed by adults.”
Armentano continued: “The passage of these measures strikes significant blow to federal cannabis prohibition. Like alcohol prohibition before it, marijuana prohibition is a failed federal policy that delegates the burden of enforcement to the state and local police. Alcohol prohibition fell when a sufficient number of states enacted legislation repealing the state’s alcohol prohibition laws. With state police and prosecutors no longer engaging in the federal government’s bidding to enforce an unpopular law, the federal government had little choice but to abandon the policy altogether. Today, history begins to repeat itself.”
Separate marijuana law reform measures proved to be equally popular among voters. In Massachusetts, 63 percent of voters approved Question 3, which eliminates statewide criminal and civil penalties related to the possession and use of up to a 60-day supply of cannabis by qualified patients. It also requires the state to create and regulate up to 35 facilities to produce and dispense cannabis to approved patients. Massachusetts is the 18th state since 1996 to authorize the physician-recommended use of cannabis.
In Michigan, an estimated 65 percent of Detroit voters approved Measure M, which removes criminal penalties pertaining to the possession on private property of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults over age 21.
A statewide ballot measure to legalize the therapeutic use of cannabis in Arkansas appears to have narrowly failed by a vote of 49 percent to 51 percent. In Montana, a referendum that sought to ease legislative restrictions on the state’s medical marijuana law also failed. Oregon’s Measure 80, which sought to allow for the state-licensed production and retail sale of cannabis to adults, garnered only 45 percent of the popular vote.
The ballot measures in Colorado and Washington will take effect once the vote totals have been formally ratified, a process that typically takes up to 30 days.
NORML will provide additional updates on various other local measures throughout the day. Stay tuned to the NORML blog for more information.
Here's a quick reaction from LEAP's Tony Ryan, a 36-year veteran Denver cop who has spent a lot of time in Montana:
"Tonight the voters of Montana reaffirmed their commitment to responsible regulation of the medical marijuana industry. They have seen that the current law not only helps seriously ill patients have safe access to their doctor-recommended medicine, but it creates jobs, generates tax revenue and takes money away from gangs and cartels who would otherwise control street sales of marijuana."
“It’s unfortunate the Montana Senate felt it necessary to override the democratically made decision of its constituents with a bill limiting the medical marijuana law currently on the books in the state. Tonight’s defeat at the ballot is more reflective of voter confusion than of voter will, which was already demonstrated with the passage of I-148."
Journalists wishing to arrange interviews with LEAP speakers should contact Tom Angell at email@example.com or Darby Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Four of the six statewide marijuana initiatives appearing on the November 2012 ballot are solidly favored among likely voters.
Voters in six states – Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon, and Washington – will be deciding on marijuana-specific ballot measures this November. In Massachusetts, voters will decide on Question 3, a statewide proposal that seeks to allow for the physician-recommended possession and state-licensed distribution of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Arkansas voters will decide on a similar measure, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act of 2012. Montana voters will decide on Initiative Referendum 124, which is a referendum on Senate Bill 423 – a 2011 measure that seeks to restrict the state’s 2004, voter approved medical cannabis law.
Colorado voters will decide on Amendment 64, which immediately allows for the legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and/or the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants by those persons age 21 and over. Longer-term, the measure seeks to establish regulations governing the commercial production and distribution of marijuana by licensed retailers. Oregon voters will decide on Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, which provides for the state-licensed production and retail sale of cannabis to adults. The measure does not impose state-licensing or taxation requirements upon those who wish to cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. Finally, in Washington, voters will decide on Initiative 502, which seeks to regulate the production and sale of limited amounts of marijuana for adults. The measure also removes criminal penalties specific to the adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use.
According to the most recently available polling, several of these measures hold firm leads among likely voters. In Colorado, 47 percent of respondents say that they are backing Amendment 64, according to a September Public Policy poll of 1,001 likely voters. Thirty-eight percent of likely voters said that they opposed the measure and 15 percent were undecided. [UPDATE: Just released polling now shows the measure leading by a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent.]
In Massachusetts, a majority of likely voters support Question 3. A Public Policy Polling survey released in August reported that 58 percent of respondents favor the measure versus only 27 percent who oppose it.
In Montana, a majority of voters do not support enacting limits on the state’s medical marijuana law, according to a just-published poll of 656 likely voters.
And in Washington, nearly six out of ten voters say they intend to decide in favor of I-502, according to a Survey USA poll released this week. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said that they will vote ‘yes’ on the measure, versus only 34 percent who said they would vote ‘no.’ Nine percent remain undecided.
In Oregon, a July poll not specific to the initiative conducted by Public Policy Polling reported that only 43 percent of Oregonians believed that cannabis use should be legal, versus 46 percent who endorsed it remaining illegal. No recent polling is available in Arkansas.
NORML has additional details about this November’s statewide and municipal ballot proposals at our ‘Smoke the Vote’ webpage here.
Members of the Montana Supreme Court ruled 6 to 1 on Tuesday that patients do not possess a fundamental right to access and consume cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The decision reverses a District Court ruling enjoining the state from enforcing various provisions of a 2011 state law that limits the public’s access to medical marijuana.
“In pursuing one’s health, an individual has a fundamental right to obtain and reject medical treatment,” Justice Michael Wheat opined for the majority. “But, this right does not extend to give a patient a fundamental right to use any drug, regardless of its legality.”
He added, “A patient’s ‘selection of a particular treatment, or at least a medication, is within the area of government interest in protecting public health,’ and regulation of that medication does not implicate a fundamental constitutional right.”
The Court further opined that a patient’s “right to privacy does not encompass the affirmative right of access to medical marijuana.”
The majority concluded, “[T]he plaintiffs cannot seriously contend that they have a fundamental right to medical marijuana when it is still unequivocally illegal under the (federal) Controlled Substances Act.”
The Court’s decision allows for the state to fully implement Senate Bill 423, a 2011 law that sought to significantly limit the use, production, and distribution of cannabis among patients who possess a physician’s authorization to consume it.
Montana voters will decide in November on Initiative Referendum 124, which seeks to repeal SB 423. Montana voters in 2004 approved patients’ use of medical cannabis for qualified illnesses by a vote of 62 percent.
Full text of the decision, Montana Cannabis Industry Association et al. v State is available online here.
NORML has additional details about this November’s statewide and municipal ballot initiative at our Smoke the Vote page here.