The Cautious Return of Medical Marijuana in Montana

by lizard

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.”

That groundswell came from a few different places, like Safe Community Safe Kids, run by a shady LDS anti-cannabis crusader.

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…

  1. Steve W

    I disagree that what happens at the Federal level is more important than at the state level.

    The states jail far more (by magnitudes) people because of cannabis crime violations than do the feds.

    But not in states with legal cannabis. In those states lots of people are growing and consuming their own produce, Or they have a medical provider who they can buy from without out fear of state or local arrest.

    This is exactly how alcohol probation ended and it’s how cannabis prohibition will also end.

    Then, and only then, the Feds will yield.

    While it’s a travesty and an injustice (as well as a violation of the equal protection rights) to be singled out and busted while millions of others go free for essentially the same behavior, it’s also the same thing black humans have been putting up with for years. It’s wrong.

    But things have already changed big time since medical cannabis became legally (from a state and local perspective) available and/or homegrowable.

    The Feds will one day catch up to reality, maybe.

  2. Some providers and physicians are unfortunately returning to what the 2011 legislature referred to as the “wild west” of marijuana. It will indeed be interesting to see how this plays out. I have little confidence.

    • Steve W

      What does “The Wild West” actually mean?

      No laws or regulations? Whose fault is that? If medical cannabis is “The Wild West” then how about some common sense guidance and some reasonable regulation coming from the civilized legislature??

      It isn’t the doctors or the providers who are out of control.

      It’s our legislature who should get about 100% of the blame for being obstructionist assholes. They vote like a bunch of drunk cowboys, lots of smoke and mirrors and a big pile of horse dung.

      • I agree completely. But the legislature seems to escape the bulk of criticism and what everyone remembers is that there were no regulations. Instead of blaming the legislature, they blame patients and providers.

        While SB 423 certainly changed the industry, we still don’t have a regulated market and the rules that are currently in place are again being ignored. Instead of making the legislature and the state and local police look bad, as it should, it reflects poorly on the industry and ends up hurting patients when providers are raided by federal agencies.

        • Steve W

          As long as patients and providers blame patients and providers then it’s only natural that others will blame patients and providers. Just saying.

          We have to start loudly blaming the legislature and stay on message.

        • Eric

          We all had this discussion before, and it all boils down to the basic conflict between Federal law, and State law.

          I have friends in Colorado that tell me the Feds have had no problems with raiding pot shops down there, you just don’t hear about it in the media.

          I wouldn’t have the guts to invest in a Cannabis business.

          • Steve W

            Lots and lots of cannabis commissaries aren’t being raided as well, even as we speak Eric. You aren’t a real capitalist if you don’t love the hell outta risk my friend. Your socialist whimpering is stinking up the place, you and your fear of the storm troopers.

            The Feds are wrong on multiple counts. Lets talk science, lets talk economics, lets talk safe kids.

  3. lizard19

    I am not a patient, or a provider, but I think if MM proponents want to effectively move forward, then acknowledging the very negative role patients like Jason Christ played (enabled by the media) made it significantly more difficult for legislators to fix the regulatory mess they created through years of inaction.

    legislators are the only ones who can fix the regulatory mess. blaming them now, however justified, is not the best strategy for 2015.

    • Steve W

      Why would holding legislators accountable for their vote or their inaction be poor strategy?

      Jason Christ was just some run of the mill garden variety functional sociopath who came up with a needed service and completely legal way to make big bucks off the legislatures’ inaction. That’s why anybody cares. He was raking it in and he wasn’t growing or selling cannabis.

      Besides the fact that most people who had more than passing interaction with him fairly quickly concluded he was an asshole, he made a lot of money quite quickly and he facilitated a lot of patients getting their Montana Medical Cannabis cards.

      The media just flat out lied, alluded, intimated, and carelessly repeated unsubstantiated hearsay to whip up some of the public into a marijuana panic. Jason and the media were a symbiotic relationship made in heaven.

      The patients and growers helped the media and flung non-stop accusations at each other and they all ended up with mud on themselves as well.

      Here’s how well the propaganda worked. I have a good friend who was a care provider and a patient and we were talking cannabis politics on the phone the other day.

      He started going off on how Jason Christ had destroyed medical cannabis. yeah, I’ve heard that theory about a million times.

      I countered that the destruction was accomplished by the media. In balance, Jason Crist did far more good for the movement toward rationality than he hurt it. He signed up thousands of Montanans and connected them with doctors in clinics so they could get their card. He rapidly doubled tripled and quadrupled the card holding constituency in Montana.

      My friend hit the roof. He said that Jason’s traveling circus had ruined the movement. Jason, the great demon!

      Here is the funny and ironic part. I had to remind my friend that he had attended 2 or 3 of Jason’s clinics as a care provider so he could meet and interact with potential clients. He had a table there 2 or 3 times.

      If the cannabis fair at the Red Lion Inn Convention room (or it’s generic equivalents) was such a huge bummer, why did my friend continue to attend again as a participant? That’s how strong propaganda is. My friend forgot he was a willing participant in order to jump on the scapegoating bandwagon.

      The data is on our side, and overwhelmingly so. We should be at doors talking about cancer and cannabis.

      Everyone has been bad touched by cancer. The evidence that cannabis contains phyto-chemicals that kill many of the worst kinds of cancer with only minuscule side effects is quite compelling.

      The data is on our side. Opiate (and opiate analogue ) deaths have fallen in all states where medical cannabis is available.

      The data is on our side. Alcohol consumption has gone down in states with medical cannabis and so have traffic deaths.

      If the newspapers won’t report it, then we should take it to the doors. We need to organize. We need to organize constituents to push their legislators to vote appropriately.

      • lizard19

        you didn’t say hold them accountable, you said blame them. to hold them accountable implies some kind of action, like voting out the legislators that passed SB 423. blame is just pointing fingers, and tends to make people defensive. it’s much harder to work with people when they are defensive.

        so yes, I think it’s a poor strategy.

        as for Jason Christ, it’s too bad he conned so many people into working with him. I would hope during this next go around that people are a bit more careful and savvy with the media.

        • Steve W

          I don’t think being savvyy with the media is the answer. OK it doesn’t hurt. But the media really could care less if you are savvy or not.

          They pushed an agenda from within their own organizations that had nothing to do with media relations.

          We have to circumvent the media because they refuse to print what is obvious to hundreds of millions of people. They refuse to do that almost every day.

  4. Just an aside, but a young relative of ours, a strict religious conservative who was studying journalism at the time, was assigned a paper on medical marijuana, then legal in Colorado. She had to go to the outlets and interview those who sold the stuff, and from there got to know some of the people who were the clients.

    She surprised me in that she learned that marijuana really is effective in reliving symptoms such as nausea and low grade pain, and that the people who could get it really appreciated having the ability to get thier hands on it.

    After the window briefly opened due to her being forced to examine the issue objectively, it closed as quickly. She is now, as her church instructs, rigidly opposed to marijuana use for any reason, medical or recreational.

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