Thursday, December 30, 2010

Weed out the nonsense

Posted on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 4:00 AM

While it remains clear problems exist with the application of Montana’s Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA), these issues do not indicate our model of compassionate access is itself a failure (see “Legalization lingo” in Letters, Dec. 9, 2010). The use of cannabis, be it for recreational or medicinal reasons, has been relocated to the back alleys and shadows of our society for over 80 years. This past prohibition creates an array of issues—most tragic being the association of our ill with society’s criminal element.

Unfortunately, when any economy evolves from a complete prohibition to an open market model there will be an awkward phase of assimilation. Individuals considered “drug dealers” prior to the implementation of I-148 will, and do, seek the shelter of Montana’s compassionate access law—thankfully the mechanisms to deal with these potential abuses are already in place. Capitalism and free market economics, long cherished American traditions, “weed” out those who attempt to exploit Montana’s ill, while criminal activity is easily addressed through our existing law enforcement infrastructure.

We hear concerns voiced about the number of people with medical cannabis cards in Montana, yet the reality remains only a small fraction of our population is licensed to possess and consume cannabis. We hear about the 18-year-old with the bad back, and are told that the “circus-like atmosphere” generated by the fading phenomenon of traveling clinics is reason enough to scrap the MMMA. However, when we extricate ourselves from the emotive hysteria that surrounds the ingestion of these flowers, most agree that those who employ deceit to obtain a marijuana recommendation, or physicians that violate accepted standards of medical care, are issues that should be addressed in the same manner as a patient fraudulently obtaining prescription narcotics, or an MD wantonly prescribing such medications purely for profit.

We hear of a proliferation of marijuana into Montana’s high schools, and the imminent risk this poses to our youth. However, it’s important to remember we are discussing the medical applications of cannabis, not recreational use among teenagers. Teenagers do experiment—some abuse prescription medication, some drink alcohol—and it may be a shock, but teenagers were actually smoking pot before Montana had a medical marijuana program. It now becomes the responsibility of our educators to explain the potential liabilities of recreational use, and law enforcement’s obligation to work with medical cannabis providers to prevent diversion and misapplication. Our society would never consider telling the woman dying from stage-four carcinoma, in incredible pain, that she could not have her conventional analgesic medication because it may wind up in the hands of a teen. We don’t do that in Montana because we are compassionate, rational people.

So why do we experience this hysteria and controversy? Throughout our lives, we have been taught that cannabis has no benefit whatsoever. Yet today, through compassionate access, many Montanans have found this sentiment patently untrue. Beyond a wealth of anecdotal evidence, a quick Internet search of marijuana’s affect on tumor reduction alone generates several credible, international studies—the evidence is here and, unlike Ms. Brady or other staunch prohibitionist detractors, you don’t have to take my word alone.

As we approach this legislative session, medical cannabis will continue to be a “hot topic” in Montana. As such, I encourage all citizens to educate themselves regarding the historic realities surrounding cannabis prohibition, and the quantifiable benefits of this plant’s many applications. Look into the facts yourself—it was the American Medical Association that strenuously opposed the prohibition of cannabis in the first place, finding no credible evidence that said plant poses any danger to humanity. At the commencement of this legislative session we find our great state in the unique position to be a national leader; to live up to our pioneering reputation by building a working medical marijuana model for ourselves, our neighbors, and our nation. Montanans are savvy people—we can do the research, we can read the facts, and through hard work and compromise we will find solutions that suit all of our citizens.

Doug Chyatte

President

Montanans for Responsible Legislation

Missoula

The value of art

Posted on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 4:00 AM

What’s the value of art to Missoula? If a committee or task force or mass gathering of citizens attempted to answer that question, the responses would be as diverse as the number of people attending. When pressed, however, the group answer likely would be more qualitative than quantitative: “Priceless.”

While emotionally satisfying, that answer doesn’t mean much in the real world, where local government leaders have to rely on facts more than feelings and where dollars count more than abstractions.

Fortunately, we know the economic value of arts in Missoula, especially arts presented by nonprofit organizations like MCT, the Missoula Symphony Orchestra, the Missoula Art Museum and others. How? Because in 2005, the Missoula Cultural Council (MCC) participated in the third national “Arts & Economic Prosperity” study organized by the nonprofit organization Americans For the Arts (AFA). We were the only Montana city to participate and we’re about to do so again in 2011. To succeed, however, we need the help of arts presenters and audience members alike.

Through calendar 2011, MCC board members and volunteers will arrange to be at selected arts events with clipboards, pencils and AFA survey forms for audience members. Each one-page form only takes minutes to complete. AFA doesn’t ask for your name, address or any other personal identifiers, although it does request your ZIP code to determine if you’re a Missoula resident or an out-of-town “cultural tourist.”

MCC has been charged with collecting 800 surveys in 2011, making sure that we collect some in each quarter of the year. Once they’re in hand, we’ll send them to AFA, which will use time-tested formulas to calculate total economic impacts. In addition, we’re asking nonprofit arts organizations to submit a more detailed survey of operational expenses so AFA can calculate their contributions to the local economy.

All of that information will be compiled in a detailed report on “The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences in the City of Missoula.” That report is due in 2012 and will provide valuable information for city decision-makers and economic development organizations, as well as the Missoula arts community. Here are some highlights from the 2006 report (based on 2005 surveys):

• On average, a person attending an arts or culture event in Missoula spent more than $25 on goods or services surrounding that event, over and above the price of admission.

• In total, arts and culture audiences contributed more than $22 million to Missoula’s economy. Arts organizations contributed another $12 million through their everyday operations.

• Arts and culture in Missoula supported 1,174 jobs and contributed more than $1.5 million to local government. State government received another $1.2 million.

Updating those figures will help ensure that arts and culture are part of Missoula’s community planning efforts. To that end, we ask the following:

To arts organizations: Please allow MCC to survey a portion of your audience members. And please participate in our organizational surveys.

To audience members: Please spend a few minutes before the performance to confirm what we believe: that while art and culture are priceless, their worth can be stated in a way community policymakers understand—in dollars and cents.

Tom Bensen

Executive Director

Missoula Cultural Council

Ian Marquand

Arts and Economic Study Committee Chair

Missoula Cultural Council

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Forest bill politics

Posted on Thu, Dec 23, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Over the past two years many Montanans—as well as Americans—have expressed serious, substantive concerns with Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Concerns have included the mandated minimum logging levels, motors and other incompatible uses in designated wilderness, negative impacts to Forest Service budgets in our region and turning some wildlands and Wilderness Study Areas into permanent motorized recreation areas. These serious concerns are a major reason why Tester’s bill never made it out of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, never made it to the floor of the U.S. Senate and never was introduced in the U.S. House.

Instead of honestly listening to these concerns and making the needed changes to his bill, in recent weeks Sen. Tester worked behind the scenes to attach his bill as a rider to a completely unrelated $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that ran 2,000 pages long. It’s unfortunate that Sen. Tester chose such a course, but I’m certainly glad that the entire omnibus spending bill was pulled from the Senate floor late last week, as Tester’s logging bill wasn’t the only pork-filled rider/earmark glued onto that bill at the 11th hour by senators of both political parties.

While Sen. Tester likes to say this is a jobs bill for the timber industry, new home construction in America is down 70 percent and overall U.S. wood consumption is down 50 percent. Just where are all these forests Sen. Tester wants cut down going to end up? The fact is that the Forest Service ended 2009 with more timber volume already under contract to loggers and mills in our region than any point in the last decade. The Forest Service in Montana also has more logging, thinning, fuel reduction and restoration projects in the pipeline than at any point in recent memory. Still mills either closed or have dramatically reduced their work force. Why? Because the global economic crisis continues to drag on with little real relief in sight. Besides, should we—or can we—really go back to the over-consumption and over-development of recent decades? Congress stepping in to mandate more public lands logging in this context is irrational. Furthermore, Sen. Tester giving the newly elected GOP majority in the U.S. House cover to introduce their own bills mandating more logging, oil and gas development, mining and grazing on federal public lands in their own states is irresponsible and threatens America’s public lands legacy.

Hopefully, if Sen. Tester decides to introduce his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in the next session of Congress, he’ll establish a true open, inclusive and transparent process and do a better job of listening to these substantive concerns and make the required changes to his bill.

Matthew Koehler

WildWest Institute

Missoula

Hands off the hill

Posted on Thu, Dec 23, 2010 at 4:00 AM

This is my first letter to any editor, but your article regarding Snowbowl chairlift delays simply astounds me (see “Slippery slope, Dec. 16, 2010). It strikes me as being out-of-bounds that Rep. Betsy Hands believes the skiing public needs additional protections delivered by the Montana Legislature. I have to think our Legislature has more critical issues to deal with this winter than designing a comprehensive Montana ski industry lift-ticket refund policy that would, or even could address every situation that might merit a refund.

If we skiers have a bad day at Snowbowl, we need to talk to Brad or Ronnie. Snowbowl is a “service industry” and if you think they don’t care if we ever ski there again, you are wrong. There’s a high probability we would be treated fairly and continue to be happy customers. But if not, and if we’re still unhappy, we need to either just get over it, or (as it says in the article) we can “vote with our wallet” and ski other areas. Frankly, if I had a bad enough experience at a ski hill, even a refund of my lift ticket wouldn’t get me back there anytime soon.

Regardless, I don’t need the state of Montana wasting its time and resources to ensure I have a decent experience on the slopes. I can deal with that myself.

Mike Duffield

Missoula

Local voices

Posted on Thu, Dec 23, 2010 at 4:00 AM

I hope people are not misled by those who insist that opposition to the big rigs has been fomented solely by “outsiders” (see “Big rigs mean boon” in Letters, Nov. 18, 2010). There are many local citizens and several local organizations expressing dismay at the prospect of mega-haulers traveling along the wild and scenic river corridors and through our communities. The Clark Fork Coalition, Montana Environmental Information Center, Trout Unlimited, Blackfoot Challenge and the Missoula City Council are some I know of.

However, there are definitely some “outsiders” involved. The Japanese and South Korean manufacturers, the Kearl Tar Sands in Canada destination, and Imperial Oil (a subsidiary of ExxonMobil) and Korean National Oil Corporation’s Harvest Operation, which will reap the profits. None of these outsiders will miss stopping along the rivers for a picnic or swim or a fish. These outsiders will not be inconvenienced or perhaps endangered when traffic comes to a standstill. None of them will suffer if tourists decide to go elsewhere.

In the past few years ExxonMobil has made more money than ever in the history of profit. Why must we who live here allow these corporations to endanger our region’s beauty, peace and serenity so they can save themselves some money? It is my hope that local folks will continue to speak out against outside corporations riding roughshod over our irreplaceable scenic beauty.

Taylor Pape

Frenchtown

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fighting the tide

Posted on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Last month, an Independent cover depicted a herd of stampeding elephants (see “Red Tide,” Nov. 11, 2010). It referred to the recent ouster of Democratic Party incumbents here in Ravalli County and the 14-for-14 race victory of Republican candidates over Democrats and Libertarians.

I disagreed with the Independent article. It referred to the voters as fickle and stated, “It’s enough to make you wonder if the seemingly schizophrenic American electorate needs a collective head exam.” The writer apparently views voters who rejected the Democratic Party as perhaps psychiatrically impaired. Ravalli County Commissioner Carlotta Grandstaff was quoted stating, “There’s a little bit of thinking that this is what the voters wanted, that they had no idea what they were voting for and now they are going to get it.”

The writer makes a great deal out of the election of Mary Hudson-Smith over Joanne Johnson for County Treasurer. Apparently Hudson-Smith has always been a Democrat, but ran as a Republican in the recent election. Hudson-Smith shrugged off any alleged duplicity on her part by saying that she has never considered herself anything, but when it came to running for office she said, “You can’t very well run as nonpartisan, you have to choose something.” That is a questionable statement.

I ask, so what? In over 50 years of voting, I can’t remember any election in which candidates voted for a name on the ballot. If anyone wants information about a judge who is up for retention they have to dig for it. How many judges does the writer think have been retained when voters knew nothing about them?

Carlotta’s remarks in the article about conservation easements are very revealing. Easements ultimately put property under the control of government. Wilderness areas serve the same purpose. The federal government owns more of Montana than it should. Many Rocky Mountain states are questioning that situation.

I believe the reason for the “Red Tide” in Ravalli County is a radical environmentalist, Stewart Brandborg. He has controlled politics in Ravalli County for at least a decade. Brandborg leads a small, vocal group of activists. He has manipulated the political system and put policies in place that do not reflect the wishes of most people in the Bitterroot.

The “Red Tide” resulted from the rage Bitterrooters feel toward Brandborg. The benefactor of the Democrats in Ravalli County brought them down. Demeaning those voters is a mistake that Stewart made on more than one occasion.

Gene Williams

Hamilton

Benefits of legalization

Posted on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 4:00 AM

I’m writing in response to the letter to the editor titled “Legalization lingo” (see Letters, Dec. 9, 2010). While I agree that the Department of Agriculture is not the correct organization to regulate the production and sale of medical marijuana, I do think there is a need for people with legitimate illnesses to have regulated access to marijuana.

The regulations are too vague at this time. In the upcoming 2011 legislative session, representatives are proposing that the Department of Revenue be responsible for the regulation of medical marijuana. If the federal government would see fit to legalize marijuana, then marijuana could be distributed through pharmacies like other prescription drugs used for pain relief, nausea and appetite. I see alcohol as a debilitating drug and it is legal; at least marijuana has benefits.

Too much money is wasted on policing marijuana growth and use. If Montana did legalize and tax marijuana, at least Montanans would be taking money out of the criminal’s hands, while at the same time making money for beneficial use like children’s health insurance or rehabilitation. Obviously the drug task force’s efforts are not even coming close to stopping illegal marijuana growth or use in Montana anyway!

Get involved, write your representatives and help make the changes you would like to see.

Kris Carroll

Missoula

Big rigs don’t mean jobs

Posted on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 4:00 AM

I am a union boilermaker. I have been unemployed since June 2010.

Last year Canada put out a call for 1,000 U.S. boilermakers to come work at the Kearl Oil Sands. They were offering generous pay and benefits. To qualify, one had to supply a passport, a five-year work history and enough cash to get by until the paychecks started. I did all of this, but by March of this year no U.S. boilermakers were allowed to work in Canada. Apparently they hired people working in their own ports. Now with the big rigs’ proposed route through Montana, I wonder what kind of jobs will be created for U.S. workers besides holding a highway sign. They didn’t want us in their backyard and now I don’t want them in mine.

Mike Steber

Missoula

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Here’s an idea

Posted on Thu, Dec 9, 2010 at 4:00 AM

The president’s bipartisan Deficit Commission has released some of its recommendations for cutting federal spending and, as one would expect, it is a mixed bag. Some, such as cutting Social Security benefits and increasing the qualifying age, are clearly a bad idea as the burden would fall primarily on the elderly poor and the struggling middle class. A better move would be to let lapse George W. Bush’s tax cuts for his wealthy friends and have those whose earnings top $250,000 per year (raise your hand if this is you!) go back to paying taxes more appropriate to their income.

The best idea proposed by this commission is to reduce annual military spending by $100 billion. Another way of writing that staggering sum is to call it $100 thousand million. Or picture a line of a million people (about the total population of Montana), each carrying a thousand $100 dollar bills, all marching up to a gigantic black hole and throwing their money into that national rat hole. Every year.

Anyone who has spent any time in the military service can attest to the waste and mismanagement for which the military is (in)famous. The laundry list of wasteful military spending practices include weapon systems that don’t work, aircraft that the military didn’t want but were built anyway at the insistence of members of Congress in whose states the things were built, and accounting systems that allow billions of tax dollars to disappear without a trace.

The United States presently spends more on its military establishment than do all the other industrialized nations—combined! There is no rational argument that can justify that level of spending.

Nowhere is it written that the U.S. has to be the world’s policeman. And nowhere is it written that we have to continue wasteful spending habits just because those habits have become, well, just habits.

Patrick Leonard

Corvallis

Legalization lingo

Posted on Thu, Dec 9, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Is Montana going to pot? Could it be that from the beginning proponents of marijuana have been using “medical” as a guise to get marijuana legalized and create a market for a huge cash crop?

Tom Daubert recently made a statement that the Montana Department of Agriculture is best suited to regulate the production and sale of Montana’s burgeoning and largely unregulated Medical Marijuana. Why Montana Department of Agriculture?

Daubert, who currently is a medical marijuana caregiver, has publicly stated that he was involved in the final drafting of the 2004 Citizens Medical Marijuana Act. The 2004 Ballot Statement for the Medical Marijuana Act stated that Montana would be legalizing marijuana for “the limited use of marijuana, under medical supervision, by patients with debilitating medical conditions to alleviate the symptoms of their conditions.” The voter information pamphlet stated that the initiative would allow for the caregiver to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana.

The following is a quote by Daubert that was published on June 11, 2010: “It’s a shame,” said Daubert. “We’ve been working on a careful strategy to use medical to get toward legalization. It was working until medical blew up in our faces.”

Thank you, Mr. Daubert, for finally stating the obvious.

It now appears that Mr. Daubert believes that marijuana should be legalized, treated as a commodity and regulated by the Department of Agriculture.

No other “medicine,” as marijuana proponents want to call this drug, is being controlled by the Department of Agriculture in Montana. What happened to the “limited use,” “medical supervision,” and the “grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana” compassionate law that some Montanans voted for? Is this about pain and suffering or is this about creating a marijuana industry and trying to develop a cash crop to make marijuana proponents rich?

All you have to do is look at Prop. 19 in California to see a glimpse of the future for states that have legalized medical marijuana. Pro legalization people funded that campaign as well as the 2004 Medical Marijuana Act campaign in Montana.

So much for compassion when you can make a buck at the expense of the unsuspecting people who have trusted you to be their “caregiver.”

Cherrie Brady

Chair

Safe Community Safe Kids

Billings

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