Montana Medical Marijuana Providers Get What Passes for Lenience Under Our Drug Laws

The Missoulian reports that medical marijuana providers who were raided by the feds last year in Montana are receiving sentences somewhere between what they deserve (not time at all) and what federal law prescribes (five to 40 years in prison). Since compliance with state law is no defense in federal court, their convictions would be pretty much assured if they went to trial, where they would not even be permitted to say why they were growing or distributing marijuana. Hence all of them so far have opted for plea agreements, under which prosecutors and judges are letting them serve much less time than they would if convicted of drug offenses carrying mandatory minimum sentences:

They faced mandatory minimum sentences of at least five years in prison on some charges, with maximum penalties of 40 years and fines ranging as high as $5 million.

But the sentences handed down so far, all the result of plea agreements that saw some charges dropped, have been considerably shorter, ranging from six months to 18 months.

And in one case where attorneys agreed on sentencing guidelines of 24-30 months for each of three men, a federal judge in Helena halved the minimum, sentencing them instead to a single year. Senior Judge Charles Lovell criticized the guidelines as "excessive," making particular mention of the fact that the three men, who operated businesses in Helena and Great Falls, believed their work to be legal under state law.

As I noted in a 2009 column, complying with state law (or sincerely believing that you are) does not get you off the hook in federal court, but it can earn you some lenience at the sentencing stage compared to ordinary marijuana offenders. In 2003 U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sentenced Ed Rosenthal, who grew marijuana for patients in Oakland, California, with the city's approval, to a day in jail (which he had already served). In 2009 U.S. District Judge George Wu sentenced Charlie Lynch, who ran a dispensary in Morro Bay, California, to a year and a day. Both judges used a "safety valve" provision for low-level offenders to avoid the five-year mandatory minimum triggered by the amount of marijuana involved.

When your crime involves nothing more than growing a plant or selling its produce, of course, your freedom should not hinge on your customer's health or a judge's sympathy. What a sad commentary on our legal system it is when prison sentences of six months, a year, or a year and a half for doing something that violated no one's rights seem almost enlightened compared to the usual practice.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

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  • Tokin' Black||

    What a sad commentary on our legal system it is when prison sentences of six months, a year, or a year and a half for doing something that violated no one's rights seem almost enlightened compared to the usual practice.

    Hope and Change!

  • Bands and Tribes||

    Didn't have jails, politicians, or drug wars.

    "Historically, people in non-state societies are relatively autonomous and sovereign. They generate their own subsistence with little or no assistance from outside sources. They bow to no external political leaders. Nor are they routinely exploited by outsiders."

    Elman R. Service (1975), Origins of the State and Civilization: The Process of Cultural Evolution. New York: Norton.
    NON-STATE AND STATE SOCIETIES
    http://faculty.smu.edu/rkemper.....ieties.pdf

    But now we've got city-Statist progress and all that good stuff, dontchaknow?

  • Primitard just can't stop...||

    ...preaching his primitivist sermons.

    Evangelize away, oh great Pale Injun!

  • Jeffersonian||

    Wanna bet he has an XBox to go with his laptop, fridge and microwave?

  • pmains||

    Then, in the next sentence:

    In recent times, however, nearly all non-state societies have fallen under the influence of outsiders - especially as a result of Euro­pean invasions of the world since the 16th century.

    Also, there's this:

    Tribes have larger populations than bands; they also have more social, economic, and POLItical subdivisions, and forms of sociocultural integration are different from those of bands.

    Oh, no! Sounds like tribes are evil city statists clinging to privation property! Go teach the Navajo/Dene the error of their ways!

  • sl||

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  • ||

    Don't forget the wholesale destruction of "inventory" and theft of cash and other assets.

  • Biography||

    When asked by a reporter why he repeated himself so hard every day, P Brooks replied, "There might be a kid out there who's never heard me say it."

  • rather||

    The Swiss  are relaxing their laws; it will be a ticket offense here too; rather like red light cameras: a guaranteed source of revenue for the government

  • Joe M||

    Is it possible to link to that Whitney Houston video in this blog post? It's not on my H&R feed enough.

  • rather||

  • BakedPenguin||

    What a sad commentary on our legal system it is when prison sentences of six months, a year, or a year and a half for doing something that violated no one's rights seem almost enlightened compared to the usual practice.

    In two hundred years, the drug war will be viewed as the Salem Witch Trials are seen today.

  • Joe M||

    Damn, I hope sooner than that.

  • Yes, sooner.||

    "Calculations show that the planet is grossly overpopulated and can only support a billion (or less) when fossil fuels are depleted (in approximately 80 years.)"

    http://dieoff.org/

  • Primitard just can't stop...||

    ...preaching his primitivist sermons.

    Evangelize away, oh great Pale Injun!

  • In two hundred years||

    The war on nature—agricultural civilization—will be viewed as the Salem Witch Trials are seen today.

    The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and the Seed of the Future
    by William H. Kötke
    www.rainbowbody.net/Finalempire/

  • Primitard just can't stop...||

    ...preaching his primitivist sermons.

    Evangelize away, oh great Pale Injun!

  • SIV||

    In 200 years the Hegemony will just nerve gas the entire block if anyone is detected engaging in such an antisocial act as unauthorized substance use.

  • ||

    Since compliance with state law is no defense in federal court, their convictions would be pretty much assured if they went to trial

    I would love to have the honor of serving on a federal jury at the trial of a person charged with growing marijuana in accordance wth state law.

    where they would not even be permitted to say why they were growing or distributing marijuana.

    I'm not familiar with rules of evidence and whatnot, but can they really dictate to you what you're allowed to say in your own defense?

  • Maxxx||

    I'm not familiar with rules of evidence and whatnot, but can they really dictate to you what you're allowed to say in your own defense.

    Of course they can. The last thing the "liberty loving" courts want is juries nullifying unjust laws.

  • shamalamadingdong||

    "I'm not familiar with rules of evidence and whatnot, but can they really dictate to you what you're allowed to say in your own defense?"

    Yes. You, as a juror, would never hear whether they were growing in accordance with state law. Your only option would be to simply acquit anybody charged with growing MJ, i.e. nullification, or to convict in accordance with the wishes of the prosecutor.

  • shamalamadingdong||

    I should add a caveat to my answer: I am not a lawyer, but the above is my understanding.

    Maybe some of the lawyer types on H&R will correct me.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Who cares about compliance with state law? If the indictment mentions marijuana, respectfully listen to all the evidence and instructions, go to the jury room and keep voting to acquit. Simple as that, though you're probably not going to make new friends on the jury.

  • ||

    OK, I know I'm getting into the tall grass here, but what happens if I, as the defendant in such a case, take the stand in my own defense and announce that I was licensed in my state to grow and dispense medical marijuana?

  • Maxxx||

    Since compliance with state law is no defense in federal court, their convictions would be pretty much assured if they went to trial, where they would not even be permitted to say why they were growing or distributing marijuana.

    But, but...

    Our black robed overlords of liberty would never deny people a defense based on following a state law.

  • np||

    I could be wrong, but I don't think you're even allowed to bring up the mandatory minimums they face either. I know this has been so with other federal cases.

    In general, making harsher punishments and larger minimums and everything felonies (~4,500 and counting) is a win-win strategy. Easily passed by congress else you'd be labeled soft on crime, and easy victories from plea bargains.

  • ||

    I am a Montana resident and I've seen lives destroyed over this issue. What kills me is the propaganda. None of the people I know in the MM industry live criminal lives--they are families and individuals providing jobs, running businesses, paying taxes.

    This isn't a war on drugs. I am SO sick of that phrase. You can't have wars with inanimate objects. This is a war on PEOPLE, pure and simple. The waste of tax dollars, the people imprisoned, the cartels funded--all because of stupid, intrusive laws.

  • Rick Rosio||

    It is about the continued persecution of adult citizens who choose a less toxic method of pain management and wellness. I have watched young and old die a peacefull death as this plant helped them and their families in the most intimate of times ones own death. Thease are the people the feds are hurting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4el6EGqcUw
    WATCH AND WEEP FOR THE NEEDLESS SUFFERING AS THE DYING ARE PLEADING FOR SAFE ACCESS TO CANNABIS

  • ||

    That actually loosk like a whole lot of fun man, I mean like Wow.

    www.Totally-Private.tk

  • ||

    In a court, when you're defending yourself, you are entitled to say whatever you want. For the governement to tell you that you cannot say why you were growing it, is a slap in the face to our Founding Fathers. I really hope I never have to go to trial for anything, because I'll spend more time in jail for contempt of court than for anything I might have done to be there in the first place!

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