Pages tagged "Montana"


Montana Advocacy

ASA relies on the strength of our grassroots activists to fight for medical cannabis at the local and state levels. The best way for new advocates to get involved is by joining or starting a chapter to work on local issues. If there are not any local resources near to you, consider starting your own official ASA Chapter or Action Group!


If you want to break federal law, it’s better to be a banker than a medical marijuana provider



 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Matt Taibbi, in his latest Rolling Stone exposé on the banking and financial industry “Too Big to Jail,” HSBC “helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel,” and also “moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions.”

Yet, as outrageous as these transgressions are, the Justice Department refuses to criminally prosecute the bankers committing federal crimes right under the nose of the U.S. government.

At a press conference where the Justice Department announced a settlement between the government and HSBC, in which the bank was forced to pay $1.9 billion, but without any individual being fined or prosecuted, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer had this to say:
Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.

So, the lesson we’re supposed to take from that is this:

if you’re a banker you can commit federal felonies and all you have to endure is a slap on the wrist. However, if you’re in any other line of business and you commit federal felonies, all bets are off.

If you’re a medical marijuana provider, for example, the Justice Department will not just look the other way as it did for years with HSBC. Instead, you can expect the government to come after you with the full force of the law.

Over the past four years, the Obama Administration has spent millions of taxpayer dollars criminally prosecuting scores of people, arguably in compliance with their state’s medical marijuana laws. Montana medical marijuana cultivator Chris Williams was most recently sentenced to 5 years in federal prison. California-based dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky was sentenced a few weeks earlier to 10 years. Michigan cultivators and medical marijuana patients Jeremy and Jerry Duval were sentenced late last year to 5 and 10 years in prison, respectively. All four of these defendants were convicted at trial after being denied a medical marijuana defense.

In medical marijuana-related cases, the government goes out of its way to stack the legal deck against defendants. It’s bad enough that the Justice Department expends significant resources to prosecute those trying to comply with state law, but to also deny them a defense is shameful.

Two bills currently in Congress would attempt to change that dynamic. HR689, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act” would reclassify the drug for more widespread use and research, while HR710, the “Truth in Trials Act” would grant an affirmative defense in federal court cases. Passage of these bills would go a long way in bringing fairness to our country’s public health policy.

However, much more needs to be done before our skewed approach to medical marijuana is corrected. For example, some of the same banks that were at least partly responsible for our recent economic crash -- like Wells Fargo and Bank of America -- are in collusion with the federal government to deny financial services to legally compliant medical marijuana businesses.

Just in case you missed it: the Justice Department looks the other way when large banks launder foreign drug cartel money in our own country, but works with large banks to deny services to legally compliant medical marijuana businesses. And that’s if they’re lucky. If the Justice Department decides to target such businesses, as it has with hundreds of them, the owners could spend years in prison.

Justice in America has often been selective, though rarely has it been starker than this.

Voters in Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Montana to Decide on 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.

Marijuana Prohibition Turns 75, Feds Continue Attacks on Medical Marijuana



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is the 75th anniversary of marijuana prohibition in the U.S. and, as a society, we’re no better off for it. In fact, many would argue that we’re far worse off with prohibition than if at any point we had developed a sensible public health policy with regard to marijuana use.

The effects of marijuana prohibition have been unmistakable from a law enforcement standpoint -- the U.S. imprisons more people for marijuana than any other country. However, the effects on society of criminalizing marijuana for therapeutic use are also significant and undeniable.

Before the Marihuana Tax Act (MTA) was passed in 1937, medical marijuana (also known as cannabis) was commonly sold by pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly. However, Harry Anslinger, the country’s first drug czar, made sure that no exception was made for such therapeutic uses.

Today, the federal government maintains a similar policy on marijuana. Ever since President Nixon ushered in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, subsequent administrations have upheld the unscientific conclusion that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical value.

The federal government employs this outdated policy on marijuana not only to obstruct meaningful research into cannabis, but also to target patients and providers of medical marijuana with aggressive SWAT-style raids and costly criminal prosecutions.

Despite President Obama’s purported relaxation of marijuana enforcement, his administration has conducted an unprecedented attack on medical marijuana with more than 200 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids and over 70 new federal indictments.

Tragically, a month ago, Richard Flor, 68, a medical marijuana provider in Montana died while in federal custody after being convicted and sentenced to 5 years. Flor was raided by the DEA in 2011, and like so many others, was denied a medical marijuana defense or the ability to provide evidence of state law compliance.

This past Wednesday, federal agents worked with local and state police to raid more than 40 locations in Sonoma and Butte Counties. Approximately 300 law enforcement officials were used to aggressively target medical marijuana patients and providers. From the 10 homes raided in Butte County, officials allegedly came up with less than 100 plants per parcel, an acceptable amount even for personal use in some areas of the state. And the 1,150 plants allegedly seized from 33 locations raided in Sonoma County, amounted to less than 35 plants per parcel.

In Sonoma County, law enforcement targeted a poor Latino neighborhood, reminiscent of the Drug War’s racist roots. Families, including women with babies in their arms, were made to wait outside while their homes were ransacked by police. An alphabet soup of federal agents --including FBI, DEA, DHS and ICE -- were dressed in military garb, armed with automatic weapons, and came with an armored vehicle. To call the raids overkill would be an understatement. The involvement of ICE also underscores the cynical tactic of targeting Latinos in the U.S. Drug War.

So, this is where we find ourselves after 75 years of prohibition. The U.S. continues to imprison people for marijuana crimes at unprecedented rates, while simultaneously denying the scientific evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy.

Seventy-five years is a long time, but this indefensible position cannot be maintained forever. Later this month, on October 16th, Americans for Safe Access will use scientific evidence to argue before the federal D.C. Circuit that the federal government has acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its classification of marijuana. The government may yet be forced to prioritize science over politics. Only then can we begin to develop a public health policy that will replace this country’s antiquated Drug War.

Montana Supreme Court upholds a terrible law, but voters have final word

The Montana Supreme Court issued a ruling last week in the Montana Cannabis Industry Association's lawsuit against the State of Montana. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court's injunction against provisions of the state's medical marijuana law, known as SB423, and ordered it to reconsider its decision using a different standard of review than previously applied. It is not clear based on the language in the Supreme Court's decision whether or not the injunction is currently in effect, leaving hundreds of medical marijuana providers to wonder if they are currently in compliance with state law.

While many will be quick to blame the Montana Supreme Court for what they may consider a bad decision, the real fault lies with the state legislature for passing an unworkable medical marijuana law. The law is fraught with impossible standards and barriers to participation, many of which were blocked because of the injunction. With those legal protections removed, it will finally be clear the extent to which SB423 was intended to end medical marijuana in Montana. This law isn't regulation; it was never intended to be regulation. It was repeal in disguise and now voters can see it for what it is, when they vote in a referendum in November.

Despite this setback, the MTCIA is proud that it has been able to help protect thousands of patients from the worst effects of SB423 since it went into effect 15 months ago. And regardless of this ruling, the real solution lies ahead of us: Just because the Supreme Court says the legislature has a right to pass a bad law, that doesn't mean the voters shouldn’t demand the legislature overturn it and pass something workable. The overwhelming majority of voters who supported the original medical marijuana law in 2004 have a chance to overturn this awful law and demand that the legislature do its job. Voters in Montana can overturn the current bad law by voting “No” on IR-124 on November 6. In the mean time, our legal battle will continue. Our state representatives should stop trying to undo what the voters want. Instead, the legislature should develop a workable and rational system that serves both patients and their communities.

Chris Lindsey is the President of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.

Attorney General Holder Says One Thing While His U.S. Attorneys Do Another



 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder answered questions before the House Judiciary Committee on his Justice Department’s handling of the now-famous federal ATF operation, “Fast and Furious.” During the hearing, Rep. Polis (D-CO) asked a series of questions on medical marijuana. Holder responded that the October 2009 Ogden memo de-emphasizing marijuana enforcement in medical marijuana states was still in effect. Specifically, Holder said that, “we will not use our limited resources,” to target people who “are acting in conformity with [state] law.” This seems to equate with the Ogden memo and the pledge that President Obama made before and after taking office. There’s only one (big) problem…the Justice Department is currently on a rampage in medical marijuana states, spending tax dollars like there was no fiscal crisis.

Over the past year, Obama’s Justice Department has spent millions of dollars raiding more than one hundred dispensaries in at least 7 states. Holder’s U.S. Attorneys have also sent threatening letters to public officials in 10 medical marijuana states, attempting to undermine the same laws that Holder purports to respect. In California, U.S. Attorneys are not only using raids to spread fear and intimidation, they are also threatening landlords with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture if they continue leasing to medical marijuana dispensaries.

In March, the Obama Administration conducted the largest set of coordinated raids on medical marijuana facilities yet. No less than 8 federal agencies, including the DEA, FBI, EPA, ATF, OSHA, IRS, and ICE, worked with 22 local law enforcement agencies to execute 26 search warrants in 13 cities across Montana. A number of people were later indicted and are now dealing with federal prosecutions. At the time of the raids, the Justice Department complained of state law violations, but cases currently under way indicate the opposite.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard is trying to prevent several defendants from using a state law defense at their federal trial. To be robbed of a defense is a travesty, but unfortunately all too common in federal medical marijuana cases. Thaggard’s comments in an August court filing, however, underscore the hypocrisy of the Justice Department’s policy on medical marijuana:
Montana’s medical marijuana laws have no relevance to the present prosecution…

So, how long will President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and the U.S. Attorneys on a rabid attack against medical marijuana be able to prop up their Orwellian policy of saying one thing and doing another? Only time and a whole lot of pressure will tell.

ATF is Latest in Long Line of Federal Agencies to Bully Medical Marijuana Patients



 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks ago, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), under the Obama Justice Department, issued a memorandum instructing firearms dealers not to sell to lawful medical marijuana patients. The ATF memo -- an affront to patients’ Second Amendment rights to be sure -- was just the latest in a long list of policy statements and threatening letters from the federal government aimed at undermining the rights of medical marijuana patients. However, this particular effort against gun owners has people riled up more than usual.

After finding out about the ATF memo, Montana’s congressional delegation -- Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), and U.S. Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jon Tester (D-MT) -- blasted the decision. In response, Tester wrote a letter to the ATF last week, urging the agency to “immediately reconsider [its] misguided effort.” Rep. Rehberg and Senator Baucus made similar condemning remarks.

In defense of patients, Senator Tester wrote:

It is unacceptable that law-abiding citizens would be stripped of their Second Amendment rights simply because they hold a state-issued card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

In Michigan, the ATF is being especially proactive. Americans for Safe Access has received reports that the federal government is using information obtained from the state’s medical marijuana program to serve search warrants and forfeiture notices on patients with legally possessed firearms.

The ATF memo comes after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a notice to state and local housing authorities that accommodation need not be given to legal medical marijuana patients and that eviction from public housing was an acceptable option.

Also earlier this year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) issued an order, increasing the enforcement responsibilities of banks to ensure against criminal and illicit activity. This order has been used to deny or cancel banking services for countless legally operating medical marijuana dispensaries across the country. According to a Denver Post editorial from today:

[L]ast week, the lone bank in the state that openly worked with the [medical marijuana] industry closed an estimated 300 marijuana-related accounts for fear that the companies  are breaking federal law.

In a now-famous move, the Obama Justice Department sent out a series of letters this summer to public officials in at least 10 medical marijuana states, threatening criminal prosecution for implementing public health laws. This had a deleterious effect on several local and state laws in Arizona, California, Montana, Rhode Island and Washington to name a few.

More recently, however, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that Harborside Health Center -- possibly the largest licensed medical marijuana distribution facility in California -- could not deduct its operating costs and must pay taxes on gross income. Besides the possibility of putting Harborside out of business, this could have a devastating effect on local distribution across the country.

The ATF memo and other examples of intolerance by the federal government illustrate the need for a federal policy that treats medical marijuana as a public health issue. As such, urge President Obama to develop a comprehensive policy on medical marijuana. Also, people should urge their Member of Congress to pass HR 1983 to reclassify medical marijuana, HR 1984 to restore banking services for the medical marijuana community, and HR 1985 to allow dispensaries to deduct their operating expenses when paying federal taxes.

MT Patient Advocates Put Repeal of Medical Marijuana Restrictions on Ballot for 2012



Patient advocates in Montana, including members of Americans for Safe Access, were successful this week in gathering enough signatures to overturn SB423, an extremely restrictive medical cannabis bill that took away many of the patients’ rights enshrined in Initiative 148, passed by 62 percent of voters in 2004. Since its passage last session, SB423 has threatened to reduce the number of patients who can qualify for protection under the state law by 90 percent. It also eliminated virtually all access to localized distribution, forcing thousands of patients into the illicit market.



Although a lawsuit was partially successful in rolling back some of the restrictions imposed by SB423, it was unable to nullify the entire bill. Not wanting to rely completely on the courts, patient advocates began a signature drive to put the legislation on the ballot.

It is now up to the voters to reject the onerous provisions of SB423 in its entirety in order to pave the way for more sensible regulation and reform.  Local activist and medical cannabis attorney, Chris Lindsey, commented on the progress made by the reformation committee stating that:
We had a voter-approved law that was repealed by our state's politicians. When they were unable to come up with a complete ban, they cooked up a law that punishes people who wanted to participate in the medical marijuana program. The current law does not protect patents and those who provide to them. What we need is smart regulation, not a punitive law that works against the rights of Montana citizens.

Lindsey speaks on behalf of thousands of patients whose access has been seriously compromised with the passage of SB423, and who agree that smart regulation is needed to resurrect safe and legal access to their medication.

Placing this issue on the ballot is a great step in the right direction, and will hopefully restore the rights of Montana patients established under Initiative 148.  However, the work is far from over.  Our opposition has made it clear that the scope of Initiative 148 is too broad, and now it is up to the patient community in Montana to educate the greater public on why SB423 is not the “regulatory” answer.

3 More Indictments in Federal Campaign Against Medical Marijuana



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The federal government indicted three people yesterday in Montana, continuing its campaign to undermine medical marijuana laws across the country. The indictment against Jason Burns, Joshua Schultz, and Jesse Leland who were providing medical marijuana to state-qualified patients in Montana, is a result of 26 raids executed in March by no less than 8 federal agencies and an array of local law enforcement.

Despite an October 2009 Justice Department memorandum de-emphasizing federal enforcement against medical marijuana, President Obama has been responsible for more than 100 aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least 7 states since taking office. Yesterday’s indictment is added to a list of more than 2-dozen similar medical marijuana-related indictments in the past 2 years.

Whether or not you agree that medical marijuana patients and providers accused of local or state law violations should be tried in state court – we certainly do – they should be given a chance to defend themselves. Unfortunately, patients and providers prosecuted in federal court are prevented from using a medical or state law defense. U.S. Attorneys know this and use it to their advantage to unfairly try medical marijuana defendants like Burns, Schultz, and Leland. Whether they are accused of making a profit or somehow violating state law matters not in federal court and it will never be raised as an issue at trial. In fact, federal prosecutors will even object to the words “medical marijuana” being used in front of the jury.

Let’s call a spade, a spade. The federal government goes after medical marijuana providers because it’s easy. People bold enough to commit federal civil disobedience every day to bring medical marijuana to patients who need it and are qualified to use it do not hide in the shadows. Many are listed in the phone book or on other public lists. They often run storefront businesses and some even advertise. Federal enforcement against medical marijuana providers is like picking low hanging fruit.

Once in federal court, U.S. Attorneys need only to show that marijuana was present and that it was being provided to another person and, presto, you can convict anyone on an array of federal felonies. If the provider places his or her proceeds in a bank, you can add money laundering and other financial offenses to the list of felonies.

The problem is that the federal government isn’t just racking up more points in its insatiable “war on drugs,” it’s also, and more importantly, playing with people’s lives. In a letter sent earlier this week to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Congressional members Barney Frank (D-MA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) explain that targeting medical marijuana providers:
harms the people whose major goal is to seek relief from pain wholly caused by illness.

Holder would do well to heed the Congressmen’s words and let local and state officials enforce their own medical marijuana laws. It makes economic sense and it brings this country closer to addressing medical marijuana as the public health issue that it is.

MT Governor vetoes repeal, but the fight continues

 

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Medical cannabis patients in Montana scored a victory yesterday, when Governor Schweitzer vetoed a bill that would have repealed that state’s seven-year old medical cannabis law, but there is little time to celebrate. The state House of Representatives just approved SB 423, a bill that would gut the state’s medical cannabis law and severely limit patients’ access. The bill is now in a joint committee for final revisions before going to the governor’s desk, so we must work for another veto.

The debate in Montana matters for medical cannabis patients nationwide. Powerful out-of-state lobby organizations are using the effort to repeal or severely curtail the state’s law as a rallying point in a nationwide push against safe access. If we do not draw the line in Montana, patients may soon be fighting to hold ground nationwide. ASA needs your help to ensure we keep moving forward, not backward.



It doesn't have to be this way. I was in Montana in March, when Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents raided 26 dispensaries, gardens, and homes. I toured the state organizing local resistance and energizing grassroots action. Newly trained and empowered patients in Montana are pushing back and making a difference.

If ASA had the resources, we could do the same in every state where medical cannabis opponents are attacking safe access. We need your help now more than ever to fight for medical cannabis in the states. Will you make a special contribution to ASA today?

Thank you for supporting ASA and helping us fight for safe access nationwide!