The Montana Speaker of the House, Republican Mike Milburn, was on hand for a panel discussion that followed a film screening of the new documentary “The Code of the West” in Helena this week. The film follows last year’s legislative debate over the state’s 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana law. He told a crowd made up mostly of cannabis activists that he would not change anything from last year’s legislative session where he sponsored a bill that would have repealed the state’s voter-passed medical marijuana law. That law was vetoed by Montana Governor, Brian Schweitzer. After Milburn’s bill was vetoed by the Governor, the legislature approved a second bill, that did not outright appeal the Montana medical marijuana law, but changed it so drastically that it sent thousands off the state register and back into the black market. Governor Schweitzer let that bill pass without his signature, doing nothing to veto that second measure that reached his desk.
During the debate in the Legislature about the future of Montana’s medical marijuana law, State and Federal authorities were planning a coordinated raid-style crackdown on several dispensaries running in the state. In March of last year, federal agents executed 26 warrants on business, warehouses and even the homes of owners and landlords. Agents seized thousands of medical marijuana plants, piles of cash, computers, office equipment and files. It wasn’t just the medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana that were raided that shut down. After the raids, dozens of dispensaries also closed their doors in fear that they would be next.
Two months after the raids, the legislators passed that restrictive new law. That added to the momentum of dispensary and medical marijuana clinics shutting down in the state. Before the assault on medical marijuana began in Montana last year, the registered number of medical marijuana patients was over 30,000 compared to under 11,000 today. The number of medical marijuana providers went from 4800 to only 400.
Many of those medical marijuana providers that were arrested during the raids last year, are finally having their cases tried. So far, the outcomes have been devastating. Tom Daubert who helped write that landmark 2004 initiative to allow the medical usage of cannabis in some cases has recently struck a plea deal, but one that may include three years in prison. He is still awaiting his sentencing for maintaining a drug-involved premise. Daubert was part of that new documentary, “The Code of the West” that follows last year’s legislative debate.
It was after a screening in Helena that Rep. Millburn made his comments. He was met with boos from the crowd as he explained how he felt the legislature got even further than they thought they could with reigning in the state medical marijuana program, adding “I can’t say I would change anything. What we set out to do, we did”. Through the heckling crowd, Milburn remained unapologetic, even as someone asked if the cancer patient that was portrayed in the film should have access to medical marijuana. He said he did not know. He explained that it was only just prior to the 2011 session that he found out how out-of-control the medical marijuana industry had become. He said that “the drug” was reaching schools. Parts of the law the legislature passed has been blocked by a judge, and the new law is facing both a court challenge and a voter referendum come November.