In Montana, Medical Marijuana Law Creates Dilemma

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Registered caregiver Chris Williams was making deliveries to medical marijuana patients recently when he was pulled over by a law enforcement officer.

Williams knew he had bags of marijuana in his vehicle, and that he was perfectly legal, but he still got a knot in his stomach when the officer asked to search the car.

“I know I’m legal but I don’t know if the officer knows the law,” Williams said. “I know I have to trust them, but I don’t know what to do. So I called my lawyer.”

Attorney Chris Lindsey understood the dilemma. But he and Williams are two of the owners of Montana Cannabis, a company that grows medical marijuana in the Helena area for clients, and they want to be up front about their business.

“We’re both nervous as hell. The lawyer in me says no way can you search my client’s car. But I know we have nothing to hide and we don’t want to be adversarial, so I told Chris to let them search the car,” Lindsey said.

“They were really nice, and after 45 minutes for a traffic stop, I drove away,” Williams recounted. “We are helping people, and we have to trust law enforcement. But it was really awkward for a while.”

Montana voters in 2004 legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.

It also puts law enforcement officials in an awkward position, notes Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton.

“I can understand their apprehension, because it’s something new on the horizon,” Dutton said. “When you see someone smoking out in an open area, or growing it out in the open, we have to check it out. You try to be compassionate for the people who need it, but it’s also illegal from the federal standpoint — although I don’t have to deal with that.”

President Barack Obama announced earlier this month that he has ordered federal officials to back off on arresting medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws.

Dutton knows that Montana Cannabis and other caregivers grow marijuana in the county, and he catches himself calling their gardening “grow operations,” which is law talk for illegal marijuana nurseries. He’s a little skeptical about the legitimacy of some of the ailments for which people are obtaining medical marijuana, but his job is to follow the law.

He notes that members of the Missouri River Task Force toured Montana Cannabis’ nursery, and reported back to him. Dutton wants to visit with the business owners in the near future, he added, to establish some kind of working relationship.

That works for Montana Cannabis, too.

“We’ve reached out to sheriffs because we want to hash out what happens at traffic stops and want to explain our system, so if an officer pulls over one of our employees, we can show them documentation and it will take a lot less time,” Williams said. “So far the timing hasn’t worked out, though.

“We’d also like to show them around so they know what an operation like ours looks like, and maybe that can help train them on illegal operations,” he added.