Pubdate: Wed, 16 May 2012
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2012 Missoulian
Author: Gwen Florio


A new documentary on medical marijuana raised some old issues in 
Missoula during a discussion following Tuesday's Montana premiere of 
"Code of the West."

The film by Rebecca Richman Cohen traces the 2011 legislative battle 
to revise or outright repeal Montana's 2004 voter-approved law 
legalizing the medical use of cannabis.

That fight  and the simultaneous federal raids that helped lead to 
the near-shutdown of Montana's medical marijuana industry  has made 
for "the perfect storm of a legal mess" surrounding the drug in 
Montana, said former Congressman Pat Williams, who moderated the discussion.

The panel at one point drew prolonged applause for an unlikely source 
Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who's long had a 
contentious relationship with marijuana advocates.

But Van Valkenburg, who was on the panel, laid part of the blame for 
the legal mess on Montana politics, which, he said, "has devolved 
into a situation where the Republicans in Montana are totally 
unreasonable, absolutely unwilling to compromise ... and (you have) 
politicians like Brian Schweitzer who are more interested in a 
nightclub act than solving problems. When you have that kind of 
situation, you can't fix anything because people just want to put on a show."

"Code of the West" features a widely publicized clip of Schweitzer 
putting a "veto" branding iron to a number of Republican-sponsored 
bills, including one to repeal the medical marijuana law.

However, a bill that nearly accomplished the same goal was approved, 
and even though a judge suspended portions of it, Montana's medical 
marijuana industry is much diminished.

Cohen's film follows the actions of medical marijuana lobbyist Tom 
Daubert, who crafted the 2004 initiative, and repeal proponent 
Cherrie Brady of Billings. The film opens with Daubert discussing his 
terror of federal indictment after Montana Cannabis, a business he 
co-founded, was among those hit by last year's federal raids.

Work on the film was completed before that came to pass. Earlier this 
month, Daubert pleaded guilty to conspiracy to maintain drug-involved 
premises in U.S. District Court and is to be sentenced in September.

Despite audience enthusiasm for his criticism of politicians, Van 
Valkenburg  himself a longtime elected official and former president 
of the state Senate  drew some hisses when he remarked that Daubert 
"apparently decided to take the plea bargain and minimize the 
consequences to himself."

As for a move to amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana, 
"I don't think the majority of Montanans, let alone the majority of 
Americans, support the idea that anyone over age 21 should possess 
and use marijuana for any purpose. ... I think pushing this 
constitutional amendment is going to bring out the Cherrie Bradys. .. 
It will do more harm than good."

John Masterson of Montana NORML pointed out a recent Gallup poll 
showing that, for the first time, 50 percent of Americans favored 
legalizing marijuana, with that percentage rising to 54 in the West 
and 57 among Democrats.

"It's a God-given herb. It's less toxic than aspirin, less addictive 
than coffee  and it's fun," he said.

"Social change is messy. Social movements are messy," said state Rep. 
Diane Sands, D-Missoula, whose bill to better regulate medical 
marijuana was shot down by the Legislature. "That it's such a mess 
causes people to get out and do something about it."

"Code of the West" will be screened in Bozeman (Wednesday, May 16, 
and Monday, May 21), Helena (Thursday, May 17, and Friday, May 18) 
and Billings (Tuesday, May 22). The film will be screened at the 
Wilma Theatre again at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 23.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom