Posts Tagged ‘Montana’
by Dan Riffle
February 19, 2013
Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Alcohol causes violent behavior and deaths by liver cirrhosis and alcohol poisoning. People die every day from overdoses of heroin, cocaine, meth, and even legal prescription drugs. Nonetheless, Rep. David Howard (R-Park City), Chairman of the Montana House Human Services Committee, thinks marijuana — a substance that has never caused an overdose fatality — is “the most dangerous drug there is.”
That’s right folks, it’s 2013 and reefer madness is still alive and well in big sky country. Fortunately, science is still alive and well too and begs to differ with Rep. Howard. Here’s what a study published in Britain’s most prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, had to say about the relative harms of various popular intoxicants:
As you can see, marijuana (cannabis) is hardly the most dangerous and pales in comparison to alcohol and tobacco, two drugs we’ve had success reducing teen use of lately without throwing tens of thousands of adults in jail.
Unsurprisingly, Howard’s committee blocked four bills that would have rolled back recently passed restrictions on Montana’s medical marijuana law. For now, despite Rep. Howard’s obfuscation, a judge has issued an injunction preventing the worst parts of that law from taking effect. Patients in Montana are awaiting the state attorney general’s decision as to whether or not to appeal that ruling.
UPDATE: Commenter Nathan Pierce points out that Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced Friday he will not appeal the preliminary injunction. Patients and providers are not out of the woods yet though. The constitutionality of Montana’s restrictive law will now be the subject of a full trial, where Fox pledges to “vigorously defend” the law.
HELENA, MT – The House Human Services Committee rejected and tabled four separate marijuana related bills on Friday that would have restored parts of Montana’s voter-approved 2004 medical marijuana law.
The House Human Services Committee voted down House bills 340-343, all sponsored by Rep. Kelly McCarthy (D-Billings) on identical 12-4 votes. Overall, 10 Republicans and two Democrats opposed the bills, while four Democrats supported them.
The bills were aimed at restoring parts of Montana’s medical marijuana program decimated by 2011′s Senate Bill 423, which essentially gutted Montana’s then-flourishing medical marijuana industry in the state.
When the state’s 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana law took effect, the Montana medical marijuana scene took off, with dispensaries and multi-patient grow operations sprouting up.
The legislature first attempted outright repeal, followed by SB 423, which essentially eliminated every part of the medical marijuana program except patients growing their own cannabis.
Growers were limited to three patients each, providers were prohibited from being compensated, local governments were given the ability to ban dispensaries, standards were tightened for qualification, and required doctors who recommended marijuana for more than 25 patients in a year to undergo reviews at their own expense.
The bills tabled Friday were aimed at restoring some parts of the voter-approved 2004 law:
- HB340 would have eliminated a provision in the law requiring the Board of Medical Examiners to automatically review any physicians who have issued written certification for medical marijuana for more than 25 people in any 12-month period.
- HB341 would have allowed medical marijuana providers to be paid for providing marijuana to cardholders. The 2011 law made compensation illegal.
- HB342 would have removed the three-person limit on the number of cardholders that medical marijuana providers could serve. There had been no limit previously.
- HB343 would have eliminated requirements that providers keep records and the law’s provision allowing for automatic inspections.
Earlier this year, a Montana judge blocked some parts of SB 423 , saying registered cardholders would be “irreparably harmed” if providers go out of business because a state law limits them to three patients and doesn’t allow them to make a profit.
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A 57-year-old Helena man has been sentenced to a year in federal prison and ordered to forfeit $750,000 after pleading guilty to manufacturing marijuana and money laundering.
Schmidt was charged after a May 2011 raid of his medical marijuana business. During the search of Sleeping Giant Caregivers, law enforcement officers seized 289 marijuana plants, marijuana ready for distribution, assorted edible products containing marijuana, a log book of items sold and receipts for marijuana transactions.
Schmidt has said the number of plants was far fewer than what was allowed under the state’s medical marijuana laws for the approximately 450 patients he served at the time.
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Buoyed by the success of voter initiatives in Washington and Colorado, an East Helena medical marijuana advocate has refiled a proposal to make the recreational use of pot a constitutional right in Montana.
The proposed constitutional initiative by Barb Trego is the first 2014 ballot question submitted to the secretary of state for approval. It duplicates the one she put forward last year, but which did not make it on the 2012 ballot because backers failed to collect the required signatures in time.
Trego is a medical marijuana user who says switching from prescription medications to pot allowed her to go back to work. She said she supports recreational use in addition to allowing medical use of the drug.
“The fact is it’s a lot less dangerous for you than alcohol and I think people ought to have a choice,” she said.
This year, Colorado and Washington passed voter initiatives legalizing recreational use. That has given hope to Montana marijuana advocates despite their recent defeat at the ballot box to roll back a restrictive medical marijuana law.
Trego said the votes in Colorado and Washington are encouraging, but doesn’t know whether they are a proper gauge for Montana, which has always gone its own way.
“Montana’s always been different, so I don’t know if they’ll help or not,” Trego said. “I think people are going to be more interested this time with the way they’ve done the medical marijuana law and the way it doesn’t work for anybody.”
Republican state Sen. Jeff Essmann, who authored the new legislative restrictions for medical marijuana use and distribution, said he does not believe Montana voters will go the way of Colorado and Washington.
“The negative reaction that I heard in my district and most legislators heard in their districts two years ago to the proliferation of the (medical marijuana) storefronts indicates I do not think Montanans are ready for legalization of recreation marijuana,” he said.
Trego’s proposal would add two sentences two the Montana Constitution: “Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations and taxation. Except for actions that endanger minors, children or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of the state shall apply to such activities.”
That is the same language approved last year, Trego said. This time, she said she submitted the proposal early so they could get the language approved and supporters organized with plenty of time left over to collect signatures.
Terri McCoy, spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said petitions may not be circulated for signature gathering more than a year before the deadline for filing a petition. That means the earliest supporters can start collecting signatures is June 2013.
For a constitutional initiative to qualify for the ballot, backers must gather 10 percent of the total number of qualified voters in the state — that meant 48,674 signatures to qualify for the 2012 ballot. Of that total, the signatures must come from 10 percent of the voters in each of the 40 state House districts.
Support Medical Marijuana Initiatives In Arkansas, Massachusetts, And Montana
By Mike Liszewski, Americans For Safe Access
On Election Day this year, voters may bring about the 18th and 19th medical cannabis states and preserve safe access in an existing medical cannabis state. Arkansas’ Issue 5 and Massachusetts’s’ Question 3 would bring about a regulated medical cannabis system to each state. By contrast, voters in Montana are voting on whether to largely restore the original medical cannabis program approved by ballot measure approved by state voters back in 2004. This year’s Montana referendum, IR-124 will determine whether or not the sharp restrictions on access approved by SB 423 (2011) will be upheld.
Below is a brief rundown of each of the 2012 statewide medical cannabis ballot measures.
Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, “Issue 5″
A “YES” vote will bring safe access to Arkansas. The AMMA was organized by Arkansans for Compassionate Care and would establish a system of up to 30 non-profit dispensaries throughout the state. Patients and their caregivers who get a recommendation from their doctor with whom they have a bonafide physician-patient relationship and then obtain a registration card from state Department of Health will be protected from arrest if they meet stay within the scope of law. Eligible conditions include: Cancer, Glaucoma, positive status for Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), Hepatitis C, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Tourette’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Fibromyalgia, agitation of Alzheimer’s Disease or the treatment of chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following: cachexia or Wasting Syndrome; peripheral neuropathy; intractable pain, which is pain that has not responded to ordinary medications, treatment or surgical measures for more than 6 months; severe nausea; seizures, including those characteristic of Epilepsy; or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of Multiple Sclerosis. Patients who live more than 5 miles away from a dispensary have the option to cultivate their own cannabis.
If passed, the AMMA will allow patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable medical cannabis, or it’s equivalent in other prepared forms, such as edibles, tinctures and topicals. Patients and caregivers can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical within a 15-day period Stems, seeds, and non-cannabis ingredients in preparations do not count to the weight under this law. Dispensaries must operate in strict accordance with state regulation. Patients who live more than 5 miles from a dispensary may choose to cultivate their own medicine if they apply for designated status from the state. For those with designated cultivation statues, they may be in possession of up to 6 flowering cannabis plants, however, they are still subject to the limit of 2.5 ounces of usable medicine in their possession at any given time. Visiting patients who have legal status as a patient in their home state would be granted reciprocity for 30 days while visiting Arkansas.
The AMMA contains provisions that prevent discrimination by employers, landlords, schools, as well protections for those on an organ transplant list. Physicians are also protected by the law and may be not be punished criminally or face professional sanction simply for recommending medical cannabis to their patients when appropriate. Physicians may recommend medical cannabis to patients under 18 years of age when their parent or legal guardian has been given informed consent and agrees to be their caregiver.
Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative, “Question 3″
A “YES” vote will bring safe access to Massachusetts. Question 3 would allow qualifying patients and caregivers in Massachusetts who possess a valid state registration card to be protected from arrest if they are in possession of no more than 60-day supply of medicine. While a “60-day supply” is not determined by the law, the state Department of Public Health would be required to determine what a presumptive 60-day supply is within 4 months of passage of the initiative, however, patients who have a medical need for a greater 60-day supply than what the state declares for the presumptive minimum may possess whatever is medically necessary and is supported by evidence. While several conditions are specifically mentioned by the ballot language, the law would also permit for “other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician,” meaning doctors, not bureaucrats, will decide when cannabis is most appropriate for medical therapy.
The measure would allow up 35 non-profit dispensaries in the state, with a minimum of 1 per county, and a max of 5 per county. Patients who can demonstrate hardship need, such as financial, physical incapacity, or lack of reasonable proximity to a dispensary may apply for the right to cultivate cannabis at their own residence.
If a patient or caregiver engages in fraud by using their medical cannabis registration card, they are subject to a $500 fine and up to 6 months in a house of correction. However, if misuse of a card includes illegal distribution, it can carry a 5-year prison sentence.
Montana Medical Marijuana Veto Referendum, “IR-124″
This situation in Montana is a bit confusing, as a “NO” vote on IR-124 will help restore the greatest level of safe access in Montana. A “NO” vote on this statewide referendum would repeal SB 423 (2011), which stripped away I-148, the 2004 voter approved medical cannabis law which permitted dispensaries. Patients for Reform, Not Repeal are encouraging patients to vote “NO” on IR-124.
Until recently, a court injunction upheld the 2004 voter approved law, however, since the September 11th state supreme court ruling, the state has begun to enforce certain aspect of SB 423. Most notably, the state has begun to sending letters to caregivers informing them that they may only cultivate medicine for 3 patients. Another damaging aspect of SB 423 is its heighten requirements for patients suffering from chronic pain, as they must jump through several additional and burdensome hoops to acquire and maintain legal status as medical cannabis patient. Moreover, the dispensary system is effectively shut down by SB 423, as no medical cannabis can be exhanged for anything of value. As if that weren’t bad enough, SB 423 could result in a chilling effect for doctors who are willing to recommend medical cannabis, as they now are subject to investigation should they recommend cannabis to more than 25 of their patients.
The two major gubernatorial candidates have weighed in on the IR-124 question. It has been reported that current Attorney General Steve Bullock will vote against IR-124 while his Republican challenger, Rick Hill plans to vote in favor of IR-124.
In order to restore safe access in Montana, patients and their loved ones must remember that a “NO” vote is necessary on IR-124.
Mike Liszewski is ASA’s Policy Director.
HELENA – Montana voters have five ballot issues to consider this election and often times the language can be confusing.
Over the next few weeks State Political Reporter Marnee Banks will explain what it means to vote for and against each one.
The first issue being looked at is IR-124, which deals with medical marijuana in the Treasure State.
“I have degenerative disc disease. I have been on narcotics for over 20 years,” medical marijuana card holder Barb Trego said. “I have a herd of goats, dairy goats, I had started selling off everything, sold the farm, sold everything. ”
Trego knows what it’s like to be in pain. After being forced to take prescription drugs just to keep functioning, they started causing serious side effects and she was left with no other option but to stop taking the pills. Once she stopped, the pain increased, her back swelled and she could barely walk.
Trego realized she’d have to sell of her herd, something that was a very emotional experience. “Oh I cried, and cried, and cried. I sold down to where I had about 25 or 30.
But then in 2004 Montana voters made medical marijuana legal, and in 2009 she began using it to treat her symptoms.
“I’m hunting, and I’m fishing, and I’m doing things in my life that I like doing again,” Trego explained.
That includes rebuilding her goat herd, and Trego says she would like to see the Legislature draft a workable solution for patients, providers and the public.
She says the current law that’s in place, Senate Bill 423, is as close to repealing medical marijuana as lawmakers could get.
During the 2011 session, Republican lawmakers cracked down on the medical marijuana industry. Senator Jeff Essmann (R-Billings) says that’s because there were major abuses.
“Within my district we had a medical marijuana shop open up one block away from a middle school housing seventh and eighth graders. As I said before, that was when they really kicked over the can of gasoline in the floor of the garage and struck the match,” Essmann told us.
Before the Legislature passed Senate Bill 423, there were more than 31,000 medical marijuana cardholders in Montana, now theat number has fallen to just about 9,000.
“It has led to the closure of store front in the communities that wanted to close them. It’s lead to tighter regulation in terms of issuance of cards,” Essmann said.
He believes the current regulations keep communities safe. But for Trego, it’s not a good solution. She says now providers can not be paid for marijuana, which makes it incredibly hard for her to get her medicine.
Voters have a choice to make in November, and will decide to vote for or against the current medical marijuana regulations.
A vote for IR-124 will repeal the 2004 law and enact the new program, Senate Bill 423. But a vote against IR-124 restores the old law and throws out the Legislature’s crack down.
HELENA — Now that a jury has found a medical marijuana provider guilty of drug and weapons charges, there are just two people left who could challenge a two-year federal investigation into Montana’s pot industry by going to trial.
But Chris Williams’ conviction Thursday in the first jury trial related to that investigation will likely add pressure to Jason Washington and Lisa Fleming to cut deals with the government like the other 31 people arrested in the probe.
“It doesn’t bode well,” said Missoula attorney John Smith, who represents a medical marijuana provider who has made a plea deal. “These are people who weren’t hiding anything, so when the federal government prosecutes them, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”
The jury’s verdict against Williams underlines just how difficult it is to challenge the U.S. Department of Justice investigation of Montana’s medical marijuana industry, Smith said. Three judges have separately ruled the federal charges filed by prosecutors trump the state’s medical marijuana law, leaving the providers unable to offer the defense that they were following Montana law.
Williams, in his trial, had no choice but to concede to jurors that he grew marijuana for his business, Montana Cannabis, in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act. Williams said he will appeal.
The federal investigation was made public with a March 2011 search of 26 providers’ homes, offices and warehouses across Montana, raids that effectively ended what had been a once-booming medical marijuana industry in the state. The arrests and indictments continued for months after the raids as the investigation progressed.
An Associated Press analysis of court documents, U.S. attorney’s office data and news accounts found that 34 people from at least 12 different medical marijuana providers across Montana have been indicted as a result of the investigation.
Twenty-three of those cases have resulted in plea agreements with sentences ranging from probation to five years in prison. Eight others have made plea deals and are still awaiting sentencing or a change-of-plea hearing.
That leaves Washington and Fleming, the only two besides Williams not to cut a deal.
Their attorneys did not return calls for comment Friday. U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter also declined comment.
Washington, a former University of Montana quarterback, is accused of conspiracy, drug and firearms charges similar to those Williams faced.
Washington, who played five games at Montana in 2005 before being injured, ran a medical marijuana operation called Big Sky Health with locations in Missoula and Butte. Prosecutors say he ran a drug-trafficking ring that distributed marijuana across western Montana with grow operation of between 1,000 and 1,200 marijuana plants.
Fleming is accused of being in the conspiracy with Williams and five other people, though Fleming’s attorney says in court documents that she was Williams’ accountant and she was not involved with the medical marijuana business. Washington has pleaded not guilty.
Smith represents Darin Mower, a medical marijuana provider who was arrested with Washington. Smith advised his client to make a deal because of the steep odds against winning at trial.
He said he was doubtful that anybody else will try another district court challenge after the Williams verdict.
“You’ve still got Washington and Fleming sitting out there, but I bet they don’t last long now,” he said.
Christopher Williams stands in front of the U.S. District Courthouse in Helena, where his trial was held.
A federal court jury has stripped Montana Cannabis of its assets, which involves $1.7 million in three frozen bank accounts.
Friday’s forfeiture hearing wrapped up the weeklong trial of Christopher Williams, one of the four Montana Cannabis partners. He was convicted Thursday of eight drug and weapons charges, and faces a mandatory minimum of 40 years in prison; he plans to appeal the conviction.
Special Agent Wesley Smith with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency testified Friday that he looked at the prices Montana Cannabis charged for marijuana on its website, as well as items confiscated during a March 14, 2011, raid of the Helena-based nursery, and estimated conservatively that the gross proceeds earned was $1.68 million during the two-year period the business was open.
“Throughout a two-year period, the prices would go up and down, I’m assuming based on the amount being grown, the type and grade,” Smith said. “The highest price was $250 (per ounce) for the upper grade; the lowest price was $190 for an ounce.”
Smith said he had heard statements from the owners that they went through 56 cycles where the plants produced marijuana, and estimated the owners harvested between 150 to 200 ounces per cycle.
He then turned to the Richard Flor outdoor marijuana growing operation in Miles City; Flor also was a partner in Montana Cannabis. Smith said they “easily” harvested at least 30 plants per year in 2009 and 2010, with each plant producing a minimum of four ounces.
“If you value that at $200 per ounce, the gross proceeds would be $48,000,” Smith said.
Williams’ attorney, Michael Donahoe, questioned whether Smith had taken into consideration operational costs, like heating and lighting in the nursery when he came up with his estimate. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Thaggard noted that by law, forfeiture of assets takes into consideration only the gross proceeds, not the net profit.According to testimony during Williams’ trial, proceeds from the Montana Cannabis Miles City operation and its Billings dispensary, as well as those from the Helena facility and a short-lived Missoula store, were deposited in three bank accounts. The amounts in those accounts totaled $1.72 million.
Williams also took to the stand and disputed Smith’s figures, saying that they didn’t take into account building the business from the ground as well as crops that might have been destroyed due to disease or light and temperature problems.
He added that in his experience, Smith was underestimating the harvest from the Flor property.
“The Flor residence numbers actually were larger,” Williams said. “Four ounces per plant is underestimating, so they’re not using accurate figures for gross revenue.”
Jurors, however, went with Thaggard and Smith’s estimates and decided Montana Cannabis would have to forfeit the $1.7 million spread over three local bank accounts.
The money will go into the federal Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture fund.
A jury has convicted a medical marijuana provider of drug trafficking charges in a major test of the U.S. government’s raids of state-regulated pot dispensaries in Montana.
The jury found Chris Williams guilty Thursday of all eight charges, including conspiracy to manufacture, possess and distribute marijuana and firearms charges.
Williams was in charge of Montana Cannabis’ Helena greenhouse, where federal agents confiscated 950 plants in March 2011. That operation was the biggest of the 26 large medical marijuana provider homes, offices and businesses raided that day across the state.
Williams wasn’t permitted to argue that he followed state laws regulating medical marijuana. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen agreed with government prosecutors who said state law doesn’t matter in cases involving the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Williams says he plans to appeal.
A new poll found that 44% of registered voters in the state back a ballot measure that would keep in place strict new medical marijuana regulations that have decimated Montana’s MMJ industry. Just 31% oppose the initiative and want the state to revert to its original, more lenient law passed in 2004. That’s a wide gap, and it will be tough for the MMJ crowd to defeat the measure. But the good news is that 25% of voters are still making up their minds. If medical cannabis advocates can sway the vast majority of these voters, they could sink the bill.