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
A decision, when you’re a politician, is a political position. There’s no way around it.
The state had to defend SB 423, the new medical marijuana law, when the Montana Cannabis Industry Association (MTCIA) challenged it. Appealing Judge Reynolds’ temporary injunction, however, was a choice, a political position being taken by the office of an official who is almost certainly running for Governor.
The timing is such that the proceedings for the state’s appeal would come on the heels of the deadline for the referendum to stop SB 423 in its entirety from going into effect and instead place it on 2012 ballot. It seems unlikely the state’s appeal would move forward (and move against the voters) should the signatures be secured. So it may be that they are positioning themselves for the petition’s possible failure, to swoop in, and strike down the bare functionality that was preserved with the partial temporary injunction and do it before the Montana medical marijuana system can stabilize under the new rules.
So, is the Attorney General’s office playing favorites with outcomes, or are they also planning for an outcome where the referendum is successful and the law is suspended? If the people vote to suspend the law and place the issue on the ballot, is the Attorney General’s office strategizing about how to best respect the voters’ will? Or do their plans have only to do with the dismantling of medical marijuana in Montana regardless of the voters’ will?
Granted, they’re in a tricky position. Are they supposed to be defending the law as expressed by the voters and citizens, or defending laws as passed by a legislature acting against the citizens’ will?
Not a call a democracy wants to see their police force having to contemplate.
Patients in Billings have reported that police officers there have confiscated patients’ medical marijuana cards and told them that all cards expired July 1. One patient was arrested and had to be bailed out of jail because of an “expired” card. “All cards expired July 1” is not an onerous interpretation of a gray area in the new law. It’s just flat out wrong. Is the Attorney General’s office providing training to their people? Do they care that some of their officers are misunderstanding or misrepresenting the law at great consequence to law-abiding citizens?
Attorney General, Steve Bullock, has been silent. Questions to his office over the past two years have gone unanswered – not their job to answer the questions of citizens trying to stay within the law, they’ve made it clear.
Bullock was silent in regards to the federal raids, too. If those businesses that were raided were breaking Montana state laws, why didn’t Montana law enforcement go in? Why did the state hand over these citizens to the feds?
Once the feds have the case, Montanans may never know whether those raided were abiding by state medical marijuana laws or not because now they’re being prosecuted under federal law where medical marijuana doesn’t exist. Just marijuana. Schedule 1 drug. More insidious than meth and having no medicinal value.
Once the feds step in
In other words, once the feds step in, state law doesn’t matter. It doesn’t exist.
So, who called whom?
Did the feds show up and tell the state to step back? Did the state challenge that call? Did the state call in the feds knowing that under state law, they would have no case because what the businesses were doing didn’t violate state law, or that there was enough ambiguity in state law not to assure a slam-dunk?
A further question: Is it the job of Montana state officials – legislators or statewide, elected or bureaucratic – to protect its citizens that are following state law, or is it their job to conspire with federal officials to circumvent state law that comes directly from the people if the will of the people is not to their taste?
The citizens of Montana deserve and need to know if those who have been raided or indicted were on the up-and-up in terms of state law. Or not. Shock us with their wrongdoing if you must. But make it clear, please, that Montanans operating within state law aren’t looking at decades in federal prison because some people don’t like the idea of legal access to medical marijuana.
There’s no question these people were breaking federal law, as is any patient with a medical marijuana card. But were they clean according to Montana’s rules? And if the rules were fuzzy, Montana’s job was to make them clear, provide information, and regulate. Destroying people’s lives, destroying their families, is not the solution to frustration or discontent over fuzzy laws.
But federal arrests may keep us from ever knowing the truth.
To legitimize their action to the people, federal prosecutors best demonstrate that those indicted were in violation of Montana state law. And, to legitimize their actions, the Montana Office of the Attorney General would be wise to talk to the people of Montana and tell us why they didn’t act if they knew state laws were being broken but instead called in, or were pushed aside by, the DEA.
There is a way it went down. What was it?
But in regards to the state’s appeal of the injunction, all it does is speed up the game. Medical cannabis opponents need the law passed by the legislature, SB 423, in its entirety to assure medical cannabis access in Montana is all but impossible. They don’t want the production and delivery system to stabilize, even within the parameters of the law as enjoined. They’re afraid it might function and they don’t want it to function.
They don’t want the citizens to know. The system can be made to work.
Go here for places to sign the petition to suspend SB 423 and place it on the ballot.
here to donate to Patients for Reform, Not Repeal, the referendum committee sponsoring the petition.