The Cautious Return of Medical Marijuana in Montana
There is a very interesting feature piece in this week’s Missoula Independent about the cautious return of medical marijuana businesses. The article looks at the new players, describes the court injunction against the more absurd parts of SB 423, and includes some cautionary concern from an old player, Chris Lindsey, who is still on probation and unable to practice law due to being a convicted felon.
The new players have military and intelligence backgrounds, which is a bit curious. First, meet Brian Chaszar:
Whatever he’s doing—making coffee, explaining the hypocrisy inherent in U.S. drug law, describing the advantage of using glycerin over grain alcohol to make marijuana tincture—Chaszar does it with a kind of casual deliberation. He comes across as being unhurried but decisive, methodical but imaginative. He is as knowledgeable about the status quo as he is interested in innovation.
If he sounds more like a graduate student than some stoner, it’s not by accident. Chaszar holds a master’s degree in plant physiology. He has also spent time traveling the world, first with the Air Force and later while working with nongovernmental organizations to combat HIV and AIDS in Africa. Most recently, he managed part of a climate change research project, a job that required constant travel within the U.S., while also running Deep Roots Medicinals, his marijuana growing and delivery business.
Next, meet Kelly McCarthy:
Kelly McCarthy spent 23 years “in and around the U.S. military,” including stints with the National Security Agency, the CIA and Air Force intelligence, where his work included drug interdiction. Now he owns a consulting firm in Billings, serves as a Democratic state representative and is leading the legislative effort to reform the state’s medical marijuana program.
During the last session of the state legislature, McCarthy sought to introduce a bill that would make permanent the changes Judge Reynolds has made to the Montana Marijuana Act through his injunction.
“All I was trying to do,” McCarthy says, “was codify how the law currently operates.”
Though his bill never even made it out of committee, McCarthy says he’s going to renew his effort during the 2015 session. And he’s optimistic the outcome will be different this time. For one thing, he says, society in general is becoming ever more comfortable with marijuana. For another, the current state of the program, which is decidedly tame and contained compared to 2011, is convincing evidence that the state can run a medical marijuana program that isn’t merely a means of legitimizing recreational use. And finally, McCarthy says he has found support for a new marijuana reform bill from “people on both sides of the aisle,” though he’s reluctant to be too specific about who’s joining the effort.
“We just don’t want to spook the deer,” McCarthy says. “We could actually get this done, as long as we don’t turn this into a circus and get too much of a groundswell working against us.”
It also came from ridiculous, sensationalist reporting from the Missoulian, especially when it came to the antics of Jason Christ. The Missoulian made Jason Christ the poster boy for medical marijuana, covering important stories, like a judge wondering how to pronounce Jason’s last name. Seriously:
Any story with the word “Christ” in the headline demands very careful wording.
Such care also applies to pronunciation.
So which is it, District Court Judge Dusty Deschamps on Thursday asked Jason Christ, of medical marijuana fame and the challenging name?
Christ was in Deschamps’ court seeking a continuation of a restraining order against three former employees who are suing him. Shortly into Thursday’s hearing, Deschamps posed the question.
The judge repeated the name twice, pronouncing it as Christ – rhymes with schist – and then Christ as in, you know.
“Christ or Christ,” Christ responded, pronouncing it both ways. “We’ll go with Christ (schist) for now.”
So that’s how Deschamps said it.
In the Indy article, Chris Lindsey discusses what he now sees as his naive reasoning for starting a business that could never be considered legal under federal law, which still idiotically classifies cannabis as a schedule I drug:
Though Lindsey was well aware of federal drug laws, he was confident that his stature within the legal community combined with President Obama’s expressed unwillingness to get involved in state marijuana laws and the existence of a state program would keep him safe from prosecution.
“We were in a good position to do this,” he says. “I knew all the local prosecuting attorneys in my county. I had a good relationship with law enforcement. They knew who I was. Tom [Daubert] was one of the folks involved in bringing the original law to be. We had other people who knew about cultivation and sort of the mechanics of growing and selling marijuana. We all said, ‘We’re in a good position.’ So we formed this company.”
The good position Lindsey thought he was in turned into a nightmare when the feds descended to make an example out of him. Now Lindsey has a better understanding of how the Feds roll:
“The problem that providers have is that they are at the mercy of what the [larger community] does,” he continues. “You can fly straight and have a real rigid system and careful checks, but if the guy down the street has just gotten a skywriter saying, ‘Sell pot to your children. Call me at 1-800 for the lowest bag in town,’ that makes you look bad, and without any protections in place, everybody’s vulnerable.”
Those most vulnerable, Lindsey says, are those who think they’re behaving the best.
“What the federal government does is, it only has so many resources and there’s a very specific strategy that it uses,” he says. “And that is to go after the biggest impact it can. So if you’re the Boy Scout and there have been all these great articles written about how careful you are, you’re actually very vulnerable, because that shows that not even you are immune from prosecution. ‘If we can take this guy out, all you people go too.'”
Without changes at the federal level, it doesn’t really matter what happens next year with the legislative session. Still, it will be interesting to watch what happens, and how it’s reported. Stay tuned…