Last month, a federal judge parted ways with conventional harsh penalties for medical marijuana by sentencing Tom Daubert to five years of probation and rejecting prosecutors’ recommendation of six to eight years in prison for his one-time participation in a medical marijuana dispensary, considered legal under state law. Daubert, who was represented by some of the best lawyers in the country and whose story was featured in an award-winning documentary, was one of the lucky ones. Richard Flor, one of Daubert’s partners who continued on with the marijuana dispensary after Daubert withdrew, died in federal custody in August. And many of the patients they once served now have nowhere to turn, after federal officials demolished the state’s industry, with raids on 26 dispensaries, and a threatened roll-back of the state law allowing medical marijuana.
But even with the light punishment, the longtime Montana lobbyist who had aspired to make his medical marijuana dispensary a model for compliance with state law is now a criminal in the eyes of the law.
Daubert had been a highly successful lobbyist and public relations consultant for more than 20 years before he was approached about helping with a medical marijuana ballot initiative in 2004. He held degrees from Princeton and the University of Montana. Now, at almost 60 years old, Daubert is required to inform his probation officer when he leaves the county, to let his officer into his house at any time of day or night, and to answer any question he is asked.
In an interview with ThinkProgress, Daubert describes the crushing consequences of the demolition of Montana’s medical marijuana community:
Between the federal government and the actions of our legislature, the most severely sick patients, the very ones Montana voters wanted to help, have been crushed. I know the federal government claims it’s not after patients, it’s not hurting patients, it’s just hurting “traffickers.” And they are so wrong. They are so profoundly horribly wrong about that. [...]
I have a friend, or had a friend, that I got to know in the campaign in 2004 who suffered from lupus and other related problems, and she was literally allergic to every modern drug her doctor prescribed. And there was only one strain of cannabis that she found that helped and it helped enormously. Her caregiver shipped an ounce of cannabis to her via UPS and it ended up they could smell it … They didn’t prosecute her or the caregiver, but the caregiver was too afraid to continue.
And actually Richard Flor, the former partner of mine who just died, was willing to start growing the strain that helped Robin. He was about three weeks away from harvesting (it takes six months) when Robin … killed herself. Her attitude was, you know what? This is never gonna end. It’s just not. Law enforcement is never gonna just let me be. There’s a lot of misery out there. And then there’s Richard. He was one of the gentlest kindest people I’ve ever known. [...]
I think there’s in some ways nothing worse than having found the gift of enormous relief and then having it taken away.
Although Daubert was comparatively fortunate, he says he was completely taken aback when he was targeted for federal prosecution, a year after he had pulled out of his partnership at the dispensary to focus on political advocacy:
I fell into a temporary abyss of the most profound fear I have ever felt and I could never have imagined. I felt my life coming to an end, certainly my professional life, everything I had ever really cared about, evaporating, before my eyes and in my hands. It’s been an amazing 18-month hike through the so-called criminal so-called justice system.
I am a federal felon now, forever. And I accept that obviously. And in the eyes of many people I’m a criminal, or was. But to me it’s merely a matter of semantics, it’s a technicality that enabled that to be true. I mean I was not only abiding by Montana law. I was meeting regulations that didn’t yet exist that I thought should and I was doing it with the knowledge and even approval of state and local law enforcement officials. I gave tours to as many of them as wanted, I gave tours to state legislators. And if I had ever gotten the kind of letter that people with dispensaries in other states have received from the federal government, I would have stopped immediately. If any of the folks I gave a tour to had said, you know Daubert, I think you’re breaking state law in this way or that way, I would have changed it immediately or shut down, whichever was smarter. But to have that never happen and in fact the opposite, .. and for the feds to have taken no action against anyone for the preceding five years, six years, I not only didn’t think of myself as a criminal in any way. I didn’t fear that any law enforcement official would interpret it to be that way.
This November, voters will consider a referendum on a more restrictive proposed medical marijuana law that would essentially eviscerate the medical marijuana market, by prohibiting growers of marijuana from accepting any compensation, and limiting each marijuana provider to three patients. Advocates like Daubert say the law should be scrapped, in favor of a return to the 2004 medical marijuana law:
I hope as they get to know it, more will reject the new law, which I call a repeal and destroy law, and vote no on a referendum issue on this year’s ballot and by doing so, basically tell the legislature to go back to the drawing board and get it right by this time, listening not just to those who want a repeal, but also to patients and physicians and law enforcement who are largely united on regulatory solutions.
Watch a video of one of Daubert’s tours with local officials: