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News (Media Awareness Project) - US MT: Panel Finds Medical Marijuana Law Murky
Title:US MT: Panel Finds Medical Marijuana Law Murky
Published On:2011-09-21
Source:Billings Gazette, The (MT)
Fetched On:2011-09-23 06:01:41

HELENA -- Law enforcement officials and a criminal defense attorney
said at a conference Tuesday that they find the Montana medical
marijuana law ambiguous and leaving a lot open to legal interpretation
because of conflicting federal law.

Conference moderator Lee Banville, a University of Montana professor,
asked the panelists if law enforcement had the tools "that help you
sort of navigate this water between the complicated space between a
federally illegal product and a state-sanctioned system."

Blue Corneliusen, a deputy Cascade County sheriff and president of the
Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, said law authorities
have tried to figure out how to take Montana voters' mandate to
legalize medical marijuana in 2004 and "put it in the scope of still
fighting crime."

"Initially, because it was passed by initiative, there was a lot of
ambiguity in it, which led to quite a bit of gray area for the
application of criminal law enforcement," the deputy sheriff said.

He praised some of the changes passed by the 2011 Legislature to
clarify the law.

"We fight crime," Corneliusen said. "That's what law enforcement does.
We don't determine what the crimes are. Those are set by the
Legislature, and we enforce those."

Agreeing about the ambiguity of the law was Josh Van de Wetering, a
Missoula criminal defense lawyer, former federal prosecutor and
adjunct professor at the University of Montana law school.

"I think it's very much still a moving target," he said. "I think it's
very much Alice in Wonderland. The federal patina over everything, I
think, creates a lot of confusion and a lot of frustration for people."

If anything, the situation is getting "more foggy," and both law
enforcement and his clients want clarity, Van de Wetering said in a
speech at the Burton K. Wheeler Institute's conference on medical marijuana.

Retired Denver police officer Tony Ryan said the confusion is part of
a much larger issue.

"It is the entire war on drugs that creates this entire problem," said
Ryan, who is on the board of the group known as Law Enforcement
Against Prohibition. "Without the War on Drugs, we wouldn't have these
issues with marijuana. We wouldn't have to have the discussion about
medical marijuana because people would be allowed to have it as medicine."

He told how some countries had decriminalized drugs, taking crime out
of the drug problem and making it a health issue instead.

"Law enforcement can go out and enforce laws that mean something to
people," Ryan said, drawing applause, adding: "There's rapists and
child molesters and people with computers now that want to meet your
14-year-old daughter in the dark in the park, and I think that's more
of a threat than somebody that wants to smoke marijuana."

Ryan said he wasn't a narcotics officer but instead focused on bank
robberies in his 36-year career as a Denver police officer.

Van de Wetering said if people want the entire class of marijuana
crimes eliminated in federal law, they must lobby their members of

But he warned, "There are a lot of folks in Congress for the last 30
or 40 years that got a lot of mileage out of pushing the war on drugs,
and they've gotten re-elected that way."

Other possibility, Van de Wetering said, would be for Congress to pass
a law to reschedule marijuana to give it a lower ranking under the
controlled substances act. Another option, he said, is to establish a
national medical marijuana program.
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