MUST SEE viewing if you care about MT politics and medical cannabis.

Code of the West

Montana’s 2011 legislative session witnessed a backlash against the Treasure State’s medical marijuana program that still has patients and providers in legal limbo. Film director Rebecca Cohen was onhand with a production crew in tow to capture the action in Helena in the newly-released documentary Code of the West.
“I’m happy to deliver the film back to its home,” Cohen told a crowd of 150 or so at the Emerson Crawford Theatre in Bozeman on May 16. Code of the West chronicles the back-and -forth debate between pro-medical marijuana advocates and interests bent on seeing the repeal of what they interpreted as a loose law that essentially legalized the growing, selling and use of cannabis, to a point they insisted was far beyond that of helping sick Montanans.
A successful move by legislators to repeal Montana’s medical marijuana law was vetoed by Governor Brian Schweitzer, but the law that the governor allowed to pass without his signature in the very waning hours of the legislative session, Senate Bill 423, was described by Cohen as “repeal in disguise.”
Parts of the new law were successfully blocked in court by medical marijuana advocates via an injunction issued last year by a district judge. Legal arguments concerning that injunction will commence in the Montana Supreme Court on May 30.
Federal authorities added yet another twist to the action during the session, executing 26 search warrants of Treasure State medical marijuana interests while repeal was being debated in the legislature, an action some people claim was not coincidental.
Code of the West follows one of the men caught up in the Federal raids, Tom Daubert, who worked with one of the state’s largest medical marijuana operations, Montana Cannabis, prior to the execution of the search warrants. Federal agents confiscated the marijuana and various other properties of those served in the warrant action, essentially putting Montana Cannabis and the other raided operations out of business.
Daubert is notable because he helped craft the initial Montana medical marijuana law in 2004 which voters approved by the largest margin of any state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, 62 percent.

The film also follows the activities of vetoed repeal bill sponsor Montana Speaker of the House Mike Milburn, and anti-medical marijuana lobbyist Cherrie Brady, whose stances during the session were unyielding.

“I can’t say I would change anything,” Milburn said during a showing of Code of the West in Helena on May 17. “What we set out to do, we did. I think we got a lot further than we ever thought we would.”

Also featured in the film were medical marijuana user and cancer patient Lori Burnam, who said she has now been forced back into using traditional pharmaceuticals instead of the cannabis that she insisted was managing her pain much more effectively and safely.

“It does seem there are changing social norms,” stated Cohen. “This film is an attempt at raising those questions. The way we talk about marijuana really matters…honest and thoughtful conversation is needed.”

After the film, some of that conversation took place onstage, as Cohen joined with other speakers for a panel discussion moderated by Yellowstone Public Radio’s George Cole (of YPR’s popular RealTime production), including retired Gallatin County Sheriff Jim Cashell, Rep. Brady Wiseman (D-Bozeman), current Bozeman deputy mayor Jeff Krauss, who is also a member of the Montana Board of Regents, and Chris Lindsey of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.

Photo: l to r: Chris Lindsey of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, retired Gallatin County Sheriff Jim Cashell, Bozeman Deputy Mayor Jeff Krauss (also a member of the Montana Board of Regents), Rep. Brady Wiseman (D-Bozeman), filmmaker Rebecca Cohen, and panel Moderator George Cole of Yellowstone Public Radio’s RealTime show.

Like Tom Daubert, Lindsey is also a former Montana Cannabis employee caught up in the Federal action against the Treasure State’s medical marijuana industry, and said he is facing charges that could potentially add up to mandatory minimum sentences of 90 years behind bars.

“There are some fundamental liberties at stake here,” said Lindsey. “And the war on drugs has been a monumental failure…we need to change what’s going on…I hope Montana is at the forefront of change…I would hate to see Montana be the only state to go backwards.”

“Nobody can say with a straight face that the war on drugs is succeeding,” agreed Cashell. He said he believed that as far as the backlash on medical marijuana in Montana is concerned, “money and greed became the driving factor, though the intent of the law was good.”

Rep. Wiseman asserted that though efforts to regulate and reform the state’s medical marijuana industry, initiated by the industry itself, had begun in the 2009 legislative session, politics did the industry in.

“Republicans…refused to compromise [in the 2009 session],” said Wiseman. “That was the real beginning of the repeal effort, in my opinion.” But repeal did not happen in 2009, nor did regulation, and local communities were left to deal with the issue of how to regulate the medical marijuana business.

“We tried to do local zoning…we dealt in many ways with a regulatory framework,” said Krauss, describing Bozeman’s efforts at regulating the then-booming medical marijuana industry in the months prior to the 2011 legislative session. Krauss testified before the legislature regarding Bozeman’s approach, and some of that testimony is featured in the film.

“The legislature has the right to make or change law. I think it’s important to understand conversation is what will advance where we need to go (regarding medical marijuana in Montana),” said Krauss. Cashell agreed, but stressed that the “hard [political] lines need to come down.”

“Polarization has led to gridlock,” the retired sheriff said. “The venom in Helena these days is crippling us.” Rep. Wiseman, who is not seeking another term in the state house, said he was “not so optimistic” regarding the future of medical marijuana in Montana, and he reminded the crowd of a key factor regarding this and other political issues.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” said Wiseman. “The Obama Administration has betrayed progressives in every manner…I think [the Federal action on medical marijuana] is connected to the healthcare reform bill…my suspicious mind at work.”

All the panel members seemed skeptical of the Federal Government’s actions regarding medical marijuana across the nation in recent months. Krauss said he was “not ready to fire on Fort Sumter yet” regarding Federal action. He also said people should not “be so willing to have the government used to control, when you don’t want to be controlled.”

“It is a question of getting the facts straight,” Cohen stressed. “We need a media that is on guard.”

Medical marijuana patient Sarah Baugh of Helena, who testified during the 2011 session, uses medical cannabis to control her epilepsy. She said she was not impressed with the legislative process surrounding medical marijuana in Montana. Baugh appears in Code of the West addressing legislators at the podium during her testimony.

“We did quite a bit of filming with Rebecca that was not used,” said Baugh. “When we were interviewed by the crew, I told them the number one thing I had learned speaking to legislators on a one-to-one basis was that you have to hold on to your thoughts and feelings for a bit and let them talk about the issue, especially if they are opposed to medical marijuana. You must listen to and address their personal issues or you get nowhere fast. My impression of the session was a sad one. Our laws need to be based on fact, not on religious hysteria or personal opinions. I was horrified by how votes were traded and how often I was lied to directly by my Senators and Representatives. It felt corrupt, undemocratic, and wrong.”

Baugh had a more positive opinion of Code of the West, however.

“I thought that Code of the West did a fantastic job portraying both sides of the issue,” she said. “I felt that Rebecca did her utmost best as a documentary filmmaker to provide factual and concise evidence to back up the film. Medical Marijuana was a last-resort treatment for me to find health and save my life. I don’t want to see these blatant acts of prejudice and discrimination happen legally in Montana anymore. We are better than that; we must be better than that. We should not be judged unfairly for seeking healthier and better lives for ourselves.”

Pat Hill is a freelance writer and photographer from Bozeman, MT

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Comments
  1. MamaConnect says:

    Thank you for your guest editorial Pat Hill!

    Hiedi

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