Chris Lindsey, a lawyer who is president of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, described his frustration here last week over the uncertain future of Montana’s medical marijuana providers and blamed business interests for hamstringing the program.
Mr. Lindsey led a 40-minute question-and-answer session after a screening with an audience of about 22 of the documentary “Code of the West” at the Billings Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Aug. 15. In the program, part of the BUUF’s weekly Community Lecture Series, Mr. Lindsey expressed his frustration with Senate Bill 423, which some have referred to as “repeal in disguise” or “back door repeal” of medical marijuana use in Montana.
SB 423, introduced by Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, drastically reduced the size of scope of Montana’s medical marijuana program. Montana voters had approved medical marijuana in a referendum in 2004.
A viewer of the film and a former medical marijuana provider, Mort Reid, said he had been unable to participate in a civil debate about the plight of Billings providers.
Mr. Reid was at one time the Eastern District president of the MTCIA and filed a restraining order against the city of Billings in connection with his medical marijuana storefront. Attending Billings City Council meetings and speaking to officials, Mr. Reid said he was especially disappointed by the city’s ban on storefronts for medical marijuana businesses.
He also blamed The Billings Gazette and its owner, Lee Enterprises, which he said eviscerated his letters about laws needed to protect providers.
“The Billings Gazette has not done us providers any favors,” he said. “They are biased against the marijuana providers and everyone else in the state’s sanctioned medical marijuana program. They are ultra-conservative. They are against us.
“The Gazette has censored us. Lee Enterprises went way beyond misquoting me. They did it on more than one occasion. Lee Enterprises totally removed the main premise of my article, which was about [Mayor Tom] Hanel. I asked Tom Hanel to recuse himself from his position as mayor because he was forgetting that he took an oath of office to uphold Montana’s public laws.”
When asked about Mr. Reid’s accusations, Steve Prosinski, editor of the Gazette, said that as editor of that paper, he decides whether to print letters and how much to edit them. He said he could not recall a letter from Mr. Reid.
A search of the Gazette’s archive of letters to the editor revealed no published letter from Mr. Reid about his request to Mr. Hanel to resign as mayor.
Mr. Reid, now retired, said he was a medical marijuana provider for two and half years. With short hair reminiscent of a military haircut, tan khakis and a muted brown plaid short-sleeved shirt, he looked the part of a farmer.
“[SB] 423 does not protect the providers,” he said. “Providers cannot provide under 423.”
One person in the audience, Lyda Adair, said that some medical marijuana providers probably deserved to be shut down because they were disobeying the rules of the state-sanctioned program.
“Surely some of them needed to be shut down,” she said.
But Mr. Lindsey said that big business wants to destroy the providers of Montana’s legal medical marijuana.
“If this natural herb were discovered in the Amazon jungle, claimed to be a miracle drug, with only Big Pharma given access to discover, harvest, test, exploit, patent and sell it, then it would be OK,” he said.
He added, “The biggest opponents of medical marijuana laws are Big Tobacco, the spirits industry and Big Pharma - where there’s money, there’s politics.”
The MTCIA’s speaker at the screening, Cannabis Clinic patient administrator and cannabis activist Elizabeth Pincolini, said that conflicting activities by federal entities suggest that the seeds of big money in medical marijuana have already germinated.
“While stating that marijuana is of no medicinal value or other benefit; while ordering raids on dispensaries, draining compensation out of growing marijuana for providers and patients and maintaining a Schedule 1 status for marijuana on the DEA’s manifest; the feds are approving patents directly related to the marijuana plant,” she said.
The patents were for tinctures, oils and other solutions, she said, adding that the seemingly duplicitous activities of the government concerned her.
‘Code of the West’
“Code of the West” is a 75-minute documentary describing the political and agricultural tumult that occurred during the legislative history of Montana’s medical marijuana laws.
The film features footage of Tom Daubert, former Montana legislator and one of the owners of the first medical marijuana businesses in the state, Montana Cannabis; Chris Williams, a former provider; and cancer patient Lori Burman. The film uses Ms. Burman to focus on end-of-life compassion issues and asserts that marijuana is the only thing that saves the young woman from otherwise becoming a ward of the state as a severely affected epileptic.
The film also records how SB 423 went from bill to law. Cherrie Brady, a main proponent of the bill, explained why she led the repeal effort. And it notes that Mr. Daubert, under federal indictment after a raid on Montana Cannabis, awaited sentencing in the case.
Policing for profit
Finally, in a handout entitled, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” dated March 2010, Marian R. Williams, Jefferson E. Holcomb, Tomaslav V. Kovandzic, all with doctorates, and Scott Bullock describe how law enforcement agencies exploit a loophole in federal law that allows them to not only seize more property, but also to profit from such seizures.
The loophole, called “equitable sharing,” lets police seize property under federal law that they would not be able to seize under state law, the handout says.