Pubdate: Mon, 06 Feb 2006
Source: Ravalli Republic (MT)
Copyright: 2006 Ravalli Republic
Author: Timothy Mitchell, Ravalli Republic 		


An unfolding drug case in Ravalli County looks to stretch and define 
the Medical Marijuana Act, testing the boundaries of the law and 
setting precedence.

"I think we are treading on new ground," Defense attorney Julian Morales said.

In court Thursday, Robert L. Meharg entered innocent pleas to 
criminal production or manufacturing of dangerous drugs and criminal 
possession of dangerous drugs, for growing pot for his various 
medical conditions.

Morales asked District Court Judge James Haynes for some direction 
and guidance about certain provisions in the Medical Marijuana Act.

The act was voted into law in November 2004 and passed with 63 
percent of the vote in Montana.

The law allows patients, with a doctor's recommendation, to legally 
possess, use, and grow marijuana for medical use.

Montana residents with certain types of medical conditions, including 
cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, or certain other illnesses, can 
apply for registry ID cards that will protect them from arrest and prosecution.

Because the user or caregiver has to be licensed, the patient and 
caregiver fall under the office of quality assurance. Roy Kemp is the 
Interim Administrator for Quality Assurance in the Department of 
Public Health and Human Services.

A qualifying patient and that qualifying patient's caregiver may not 
possess more than six marijuana plants and one ounce of usable 
marijuana each, according to the Kemp.

As of Jan. 21, 169 people have registered for medical marijuana in 28 
Montana counties, according to Kemp.

There are also 63 caregivers with a license to grow or assist with 
the growing process for their patient. The patient has to name the 
caregiver. That can range from a kindly neighbor to anyone who has 
filled out the proper forms at DPHHS.

That number can be deceiving, according to Kemp said.

He called the law "innocuous" when it comes to defining caregivers.

"Mostly people are on a one-one relationship" with their caregiver. 
However, there are some caregivers who are providing marijuana for 
more than one person, according to Kemp.

The law further allows the caregiver to "charge a reasonable fee." 
The figure was not determined, nor was where a person is suppose to 
acquire the seeds, according to Morales.

In an interview Friday, Morales said he was "excited about defending 
the case" and is already raising questions of the court.

"What is and what is not a legal amount a person can possess?" 
Morales asked. "Different people have different amounts they would use."

He plans to ask the court to define what possession of the medical 
marijuana card actually means. At the time of his arrest last month, 
Meharg was not in possession of the required card. However, in court 
Morales said Meharg has since received the card.

There is a lot of room open to interpretation and clarification, 
according to Morales.

The new law also creates an affirmative defense that provides 
immediate protection to patients. A patient who does not have a 
registry ID card can still raise his or her medical use of marijuana.

"We will be testing the affirmative defense," Morales said.

Affirmative defense further outlines that a person need only have a 
doctors opinion that the benefits of marijuana use outweigh the 
health risks for the user.

"(The user) possesses marijuana only in an amount that is reasonably 
necessary to ensure the uninterrupted availability of marijuana for 
the purpose of alleviating the symptoms or effects of the medical 
condition of the person identified," according to the statute.

Friday, he cited the "uninterrupted availability of marijuana" 
outlined in the affirmative defense clause of the law as "the key."

The attorney expressed other concerns with the law as it is written.

"Statutes don't say how you are suppose to obtain this stuff," Morales said.

Meharg was further charged with use of property subject to criminal 
forfeiture, his vehicle. This has become the primary concern for Morales.

In Court, Morales asked for a "compassionate release of the vehicle."

Ravalli County Deputy County Attorney Bill Fulbright told the court 
the car was seized in the search warrant and "there is not a basis 
for release at this point in time."

Morales indicated he is "exploring cruel and usual punishment" 
because the County took possession of Meharg's only vehicle and he 
has medical needs that require transportation

"He has a need for a car, this is a horrible situation." he said.

Haynes denied release of the car and made no rulings until legal 
briefs could be filed and a special hearing scheduled.

A date wasn't set for the filing of legal documents, nor was a 
hearing scheduled. 
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