The integration of cannabis into the society will have far-reaching impacts - not as a result of people consuming it, but as a result of people understanding it. The emerging legitimate cannabis market and industry impacts the society, the culture, and the economy. As a writer, lobbyist, and policy wonk, Kate Cholewa offers a broad perspective for those both inside and outside the movement and industry.
The buzz beyond the buzz
The Senate Judiciary was scheduled to vote today on HB 161 to repeal Montana’s medical marijuana law. But it wasn’t the only medical marijuana business scheduled in Montana for this morning at 10 a.m.
Also scheduled: DEA raids on caregivers throughout the state. Bozeman. Belgrade. Helena. Kalispell. Great Falls. Somewhere between nine and twelve caregivers were hit. The warrants were issued on March 10th. But today, they decided, 10 a.m., when the Senate Judiciary goes into session and will act on the repeal of the medical marijuana law, this would be go-time.
It’s almost a split screen – on one side the Judiciary committee – Senator Jent on a rant. He said there were no peer-reviewed studies showing cannabis was an effective medicine. “Take pharmaceuticals,” he said. He said he didn’t care what his “base” thought. He’s had enough cheese and cheap chardonnay. Yes, that’s what he said. He said we “bumbled” when we passed the medical marijuana initiative. “Time for it to go,” he said. “That’s how I’m voting and I don’t care if you don’t like it.”
Senator Essman spoke and said there’s nothing in the initiative about storefronts or sales. He said the failure of the medical marijuana law lies with the Executive Branch – that would be Schweitzer – for failing to properly regulate through administrative rules.
Every member of that committee spoke to the bill, each in turn, going on the record. That rarely happens.
But it’s split screen, simultaneous action, and on the other side, the raids. The pulled guns. The frightened woman watching her handcuffed fiancé in the parking lot of where he’d worked for over a year, wondering what to do and who to call. The patient who shows up and is unable to get her medicine and instead ends up talking to a camera crew.
Other screen. Back to the Senate. Senator Peterson, President of the Senate, speaks. He said this is one of the most important votes they would be making this session. He said it’s hard for people to say, ‘I made a mistake.’ But people of this state, he said, made a mistake.
(So Senator Peterson wasn’t saying, he, himself, made a mistake when he voted for this law. No. Senator Peterson is saying to Montana voters, youmade a mistake when you voted for this law.)
Senator Hutton said he didn’t want to vote based on myth or propaganda. He said he was going to trust those with a badge. But that was the Chief of Police in Missoula he was trusting who testified in favor of repeal. Chief of Police Mark Muir who appeared in uniform seemingly in his professional capacity was acting against his own community’s self-proclaimed interests as expressed by their city ordinance to make cannabis a low-priority. Are citizens supposed to tell the police what laws they want, or is the police and government supposed to collude against the people?
Senator Hinkle spoke next. He agreed with Jent. What we’ve got now has got to change. He said we’re facing a tsunami, like Japan.
This reminded me of the repeal hearing when HB 161 sponsor Representative Milburn said the whole world was watching Montana for the stand we would take on drugs. The eyes of the world were upon us. I suspect, however, that Libya is pre-occupied. And as for this being a tsunami, like Japan, Japan has bodies washing up on the beach. Radiation, a terror from a not so distant past, is nipping at their heels. Even Wisconsin has its own problems. The world isn’t worried about Montana and its pot. But now we’re part of the collective growing tensions, stresses, and escalating economic clashes and conflicts between people and the government that is supposed to represent them.
At the split screen on one side, the Senators sit in the austerity and on the high benches of room 303 of the Capitol, the former Supreme Court chambers, one speaking after the other. On the other side of the screen, men are watching their livelihoods get disassembled. Plants ripped out of pots. Cash, equipment, computers and more – confiscated. Life savings. Lost strains. You can’t get a crop back once it’s lost. That’s the tragedy of the farmer and what makes their losses so personal.
Senator Vincent spoke next. He was brave. He said there were people angry about the law, but there were just as many who would be angry about repeal. He said that to say there are no medicinal applications for this plant just wasn’t true. He spoke of the comparative scheduling of oxycotin and the fact that it has killed people when cannabis has killed no one.
Senator Augare and Senator Moss both spoke of the need to defend the initiative of the people and requested a subcommittee be formed to work on a strong regulatory bill. Senator Moss spoke of how she was moved by the stories of the patients who came before the committee.
Chairman Murphy spoke, too, and said he would not vote to repeal the law. He said he knew people were getting real relief that they weren’t getting with the most expensive drugs available.
Senator Shockley spoke last saying the only choice is repeal, that it was impossible for law enforcement to enforce the law. He said a regulatory bill would never pass the House. So they must repeal.
I regret that I didn’t start taking notes until after Senator Blewett and Senator Larsen spoke because like Vincent both were clear on the issue. It’s not about being pro- or anti- anything. It’s just about what’s true and about respecting the will of the citizens and being willing to do the work of statesmen to make this program work. Senator Blewett’s questions during the repeal hearing brought the truth to the lips of those who had come bearing misinformation. His straight-forward questions untangled fictional dramas.
Montana needs some statutory infrastructure for the medical marijuana program. We need some regulations for the market. We need to protect the people of this state. This was not a good split screen today: Federal level police actions being timed to correspond with relevant state legislative votes. What’s the message behind that? Why are federal agents sending our state representatives messages, at all? What did that coordinating mean?
If people broke laws, there should be consequences. But if caregivers broke state medical marijuana laws, why was it the feds making the bust? Did our state police call them in? Did they say, these guys are breaking state medical marijuana laws so please come make it a federal case? Did our guys not know Montana caregivers were breaking the law, if that turns out to be the case?
I mean, how often are there federal raids in Montana?
Maybe we’ll get some information that explains it.
But now people are closing bank accounts. Patients are nervous about being able to get medicine.
I haven’t heard that anyone in the raids today was arrested on a cannabis related charge.
(The motion to pass HB 161 to repeal medical marijuana law in Montana failed on a tie vote and sits in committee. It’s not tabled. It’s not dead.)