It was an interesting week for marijuana in Montana. It seems it finally penetrated the public conversation that SB 423 created a mess. At both the interim committee on Children, Families, Health and Human Services meeting and the Wheeler conference, it was clear that denying access to medical cannabis didn’t impact cannabis use, it only served to increase the number of people you can incarcerate.
It is a step in the right direction to have institutions such as the Wheeler Center recognize the need for public conversation on the issue. The Wheeler Center itself takes no position on medical cannabis. They see their role as providing unbiased forums for important issues. Day two of the conference included several interesting panels including local government officials, law enforcement, a former caregiver, and medical professionals. There was a welcome absence of the sensationalism and misinformation that was used throughout the legislative session to justify onerous legislative provisions and dismantling access in Montana. Panels were followed by moderated questions. The conference attendees included legislators, cannabis business operators, MTCIA representation, patients, lawyers, and others. A consistent theme was that the federal government, between the Ogden memo and the raids, played a major role in the current regulatory mess.
The opening night’s Keynote Conversation was particularly informative in regards to the federal government’s attitude. This panel included former U.S. Attorney William Mercer, Representative Diane Sands, and Representative Gary MacLaren. Mercer characterized the Ogden memo as a great misstep made by the Obama administration in clear violation of the supremacy clause. He informed the group that the federal government invests billions of dollars in telling America that marijuana is bad. They’re not going to simply stand by if Montana policy plays out in such a way that threatens their investment and undermines their message.
He didn’t say there was rioting in the streets, danger run amok. The problem was that federal message was being undermined. He didn’t weigh in as to whether the federal message was true. But the people of Montana were being subjected to information and experience that could result, in the privacy of their minds, in them thinking something other than what the federal government wanted them to think.
I’m not sure if he knew how this sounded to many of the attendees.
Mercer also said that the existence of medical marijuana undermined the message being taught in the schools. In the schools, he said, they teach that marijuana is dangerous. If in the culture people are calling marijuana “medicine” then students will think it’s not harmful, because medicine isn’t harmful.
Let’s get this right, medicine – pharmaceutical drugs – aren’t harmful?
Perhaps we should stop calling cannabis “medicine”.
Mercer also said that several of those who owned or worked in raided businesses had pleaded guilty to federal charges and therefore must have been in violation of state law.
In sum, he told the group Montana had no business trying to dictate policy to the federal government. He suggested the program should be smaller and perhaps cut out chronic pain if we wanted to stay out of jeopardy. He told us what the federal government wanted, seemingly unaware that many of the citizens there thought it worked from the other way around. It did sound as though, at least through Mercer’s lens, that the federal government sees itself as something separate from the citizens and that there’s been a definitive shift from the citizenry keeping the power of the government in check to the government keeping in check the power of the citizens.
Representative Sands pointed out the problems the wobbling federal position had caused for Montana and also asked how many states needed to pass medical cannabis laws or referendums before the federal government recognizes the need to make changes.
Overall, the conference served the Wheeler Center’s goal of providing a forum for civil conversation. Perhaps such conversations can continue. A taping of the conference will be available at some point through Montana Public Television. We’ll let you know when we do. Thanks to all who attended and contributed.
Listen to the meeting of the interim committee on Children, Families, Health and Human Services here (first hour).
If you haven’t already, consider the circulating petitions requesting that the Obama administration address prohibition: