Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grow your own

Posted on Thu, May 26, 2011 at 4:00 AM

There has been much media coverage lately of the legal challenge to Senate Bill 423, the new Montana Marijuana Act recently enacted with strong bipartisan support of 113 of 150 Montana legislators. A legal action was filed by the highly paid hired gun of the millionaire marijuana growers to prevent them from losing their very profitable business model on July 1. A variety of claims have been circulated by those wishing to retain the “Wild West” situation developed under the ambiguous language found in the original act, which set up a system for people to access a product that is still illegal under federal law. It is time to debunk those claims.

First, the proponents for retaining the current mess argue that eliminating the storefront model, which allowed a “caregiver” to provide marijuana to hundreds of registered cardholders, will effectively eliminate all access to the product, as the cardholders will be forced to grow their own, which they are alleged to be incapable of, or be aided by a provider that is limited to a maximum of three cardholders, the “small provider” model.

Of the 14 states that have approved the use of marijuana by chronically sick or terminally ill people, five states, including Alaska, Nevada, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington, currently use the small provider model. I am not aware of any evidence that shows that the model used in these other states has denied access to the truly ill.

SB 423 does not prohibit a cardholder who grows their own from paying for assistance so long as the advisor is not a registered marijuana provider, and the advice does not include the act of “cultivation” prohibited by other criminal laws. The point of prohibiting compensation to registered providers was to divorce the cash from the privilege of transporting marijuana around the community, for obvious reasons. Reasonable access and assistance is still permitted.

There is no constitutional right to access marijuana, although the plaintiffs’ pleadings can be read to make that reach. If the court finds that unregulated access to marijuana is required by the Montana Constitution under the “pursuit of life’s necessities” provision it contains, we may soon see similar claims for other controlled substances such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and improperly used prescription drugs. After all, the argument will go, whose job is it to decide what is medicine and for whom?

As of May 1, a group of 33 doctors in Montana have certified 28,959 patients, or an average of 877 each. Therefore, SB 423 prohibits financial relationships between doctors and marijuana growers and requires the Board of Medical Examiners to review whether doctors certifying more than 25 patients a year are following the board’s adopted protocols. There can be no interference in a doctor patient relationship if a valid relationship does not exist.

SB 423 dismantles the “Montana Cannabis Industry” but preserves reasonable access for legitimate cardholders to a substance that, I must remind everyone, remains illegal to possess and distribute under federal law.

Jeff Essman

Senate Majority Leader


Here we go again

Posted on Thu, May 26, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Here comes Sen. Jon Tester’s logging bill again! This bad bill has been skirting opposition from legitimate conservation interests, promising the moon to logging companies that are actually beleaguered by a housing market devoid of capital and still bleeding from the sub-prime mortgage catastrophe.

This bad bill was tabled in committee, never saw a vote, was pronounced dead, and then was smuggled into the annual budget and rooted out again last session. The gentleman from Montana has failed to heed calls from the constituency that delivered the western part of the state, imagining instead that a good tall tale can get the housing and construction industry to turn that frown upside down, saving maybe a couple dozen timber-related jobs but doing zip for his alleged constituency in the tourism business.

Redrawing and redefining existing wilderness needs to be done with far more scientific investigation, public input, and sensitivity to existing and pre-existing conditions. At a very minimum the bill must acknowledge existing laws that already pertain to activities it will address, not unilaterally abandon statutes in place for decades, and abandon mandatory harvest language, the absolute folly of which is currently being demonstrated in the marketplace.

I’m hoping Montana is not Stalinist enough to accept the role of a state-managed economy, blindly cutting trees and stacking tax-subsidized two-by-fours that no one will buy, at the directive of a law that chooses to ignore the realities of the very market it seeks to manipulate. You can’t pump up this dead hulk of legislative jargon and expect it to walk the halls of Washington like some zombie of a wilderness bill. Even in Montana we’ve heard about zombies. We are against them.

Larry Evans


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Less poison, please

Posted on Thu, May 19, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Weeds are plants growing where they are not wanted. In most cases, humans brought them to America. They have the same nature as the more favored plants—that is, they want to live. They are a problem for us, but hateful speech—humorous or otherwise–does not help (see “War on weeds,” March 24, 2011). They pop up in and around pastures, orchards, lawns, farm fields, the sides of roads, and railways. In turn, great rivers of good drinking water are contaminated with herbicides and pesticides. Each spring these poisons are put all over our good earth, into water and air and into the pores of our skin. The connection to cancer is undeniable.

Once I almost became a crop duster. I liked flying low and the pay was good. Then the eagles began crushing their eggs by simply sitting on them in the nest. Extensive spraying of DDT made the eggs weak. Then I read Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. Also, friends who fought in Vietnam were coming back home permanently damaged by Agent Orange. Other friends became extremely sensitive to chemicals.

I get nauseated when I smell poison in the fields or in the garden aisles of stores. I support organic farming. It is not commonly admitted, but pesticides can kill native plants and insects. Honeybees die from a very mild exposure. Not many years ago, we did all our food crops and beauty gardens with pesticides. I am sure mighty chemical corporations that brew the poison spray are happy many customers are convinced they can’t do without their product, and that they believe weeds are evil and that we are engaged in a noble “war on weeds.” I urge you to be careful of your health and put less poison on our beautiful earth.

Gary LeDeau


Petrol poppycock

Posted on Thu, May 19, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Double talk is on the march. How can Sen. Max Baucus say, in the same breath, that gas prices are too high and to lower them we need to hike taxes on oil producers? Doesn’t he realize that increasing the fixed business costs, via a tax hike, for companies that produce gasoline will result in higher prices for gas? Does Baucus need to go back to Econ 101 for a refresher course?

Or is Baucus trying to capitalize on a hot-button issue that a lot of people are worried about right now, and using some slick rhetoric to pull the wool over our eyes? No one wants to pay more for gas, but using high prices as an opportunity to whack oil companies doesn’t help the situation. It only makes it worse.

Baucus is behind a tax hike proposal on energy that will be coming up for a vote in the Senate very soon. His political sleight of hand hasn’t fooled this voter, and I doubt it’ll fool many of his colleagues on the Hill either.

Mitch Staley


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bad medicine

Posted on Thu, May 12, 2011 at 4:00 AM

I am writing to express my frustration with Senate Bill 423. Medical marijuana was legal, being prescribed by physicians to their patients who in turn purchased it from entrepreneurial souls with a green thumb. The cultivation of cannabis to achieve a pharmacological effect is fairly tricky and involves segregating plants by gender and restricting their pollination. My gardening skills and, I suspect, many people’s skills are not up to the task and probably never will be.

Cannabis is an effective analgesic and anti-emetic for many people and its propensity for stimulating an appetite is well known. While its concurrent use with mainstream psychotropic medication and psychopathology needs to be approached with caution, the physiological toxicity of THC is miniscule. By comparison, acetaminophen is the number-one over-the-counter drug of overdose. It competes with alcohol, a highly toxic psychotropic medication, for the same excretion route. Cannabis is no worse than many other drugs of choice and darn safer in many ways.

SB 423 is an attempt by legislators to give medical advice. Advice is a dangerous gift; medical advice even more so. Speaking as a medical professional, I have found successful medication management to have several recurring features: listening, humility, and fact. SB 423 hamstrings the feasibility of medical marijuana for most people and this shows a disregard for the voice of the body politic. Denying mentally competent people an effective medicine—that grows on trees—smacks of hubris.

Prohibition doesn’t work. It didn’t work in the Old Testament: God himself said don’t eat that apple and that didn’t work. The prohibition of alcohol by the 18th constitutional amendment didn’t work as evidenced by the 21st amendment that voided it. It has been my experience that most people, the majority, in the home environment, don’t take their medicines as directed. I wish it were otherwise, but if they have some semi-defensible reason for doing so and are not in immediate jeopardy then I respond with accurate information palatably presented. This helps some and does no harm. We can’t live people’s lives for them. I think that we as a people should be content if we can help some and do no harm. SB 423 is bad medicine and social injustice and we would be well served without it.

Brooke H. Stanley


Stop the wolf war

Posted on Thu, May 12, 2011 at 4:00 AM

On Wednesday, May 4, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that gray wolves will be delisted from the Endangered Species Act, removing federal protection and returning management authority to states. This is the latest decision in what has been a decade-long battle surrounding how gray wolves are managed in the Northern Rockies.

In response to the recent de-listing, environmental groups, states, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service are donning their legal armor for what will surely be a vicious and litigious battle. Already, environmental advocacy groups such as Alliance for the Wild Rockies are filing suit to challenge the recent delisting on grounds that it was unconstitutional. These groups warn that a return to state management will reduce numbers to the “brink of extinction” and advocate for re-listing of wolves in the Northern Rockies.

Although environmental advocacy groups hope to challenge the decision to turn wolf management to states, the “best available science” supports the most recent de-listing decision. Studies published as recently as 2010 indicate that within the Northern Rockies, wolves are more genetically connected and occupy more territory since their reintroduction. Since their reintroduction to the Northern Rockies in the 1990s, wolves have successfully colonized vast expanses of wildlands, proving their ability to exist within a matrix of human communities. What’s more, overall numbers are rising: wolf numbers in the Northern Rockies have grown from 100 in 1995 to over 1,700 in 2009. Given this success, it’s important to ask: Why not turn management over to states?

Despite the wolves’ high genetic connectivity, extensive territory, and growing numbers, environmental advocacy groups are unwilling to allow states to assume management authority of gray wolves. This continued “adversarial legalism” compounds existing conflict and starves management agencies of precious dollars needed for planning and management. Ultimately, the future of wolves in the Northern Rockies will depend on how well humans are able to work together toward a solution.

Collaborative solutions can be developed for contentious issues, but it involves a compromise from all involved parties. Wolves aren’t going anywhere in the Northern Rockies. It is time to stop fighting, start talking, and finally work toward a solution.

Wes Swaffar


Clowns and elephants

Posted on Thu, May 12, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Flashback: Seventy years ago I had thoughts of running away and joining the circus. I thought that being a clown would be a great job because they made people laugh. I also believed that only circuses had clowns. Forward to 2011: I learned that one did not need to go to the circus to see clowns. All that was necessary was to take a trip to Helena while the legislature was in session. There were more clowns there than in any Barnum and Bailey show.

Pete Daniels


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rehberg plays blame game

Posted on Thu, May 5, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Attention: If you are one of the brainwashed, “don’t confuse me with facts” Rep. Denny Rehberg fans who rudely “invited” me to “sit down” while I was attempting to make a few political observations at the Rehberg “listening” session in Polson on April 29, you should stop reading now. If you didn’t want to hear what I had to say then, you won’t want to hear what I am writing now.

The point I was attempting to make, before being uncivilly interrupted, is that we have 535 elected representatives in Washington, D.C. who are responsible for getting our country into the trouble we’re in, and whose responsibility it is to get us out. If we can’t come up with some way to elect 535 representatives who are not “bought and paid for” by overzealous, greedy corporations that currently benefit from generous tax breaks, we don’t stand a very good chance of ever solving the serious challenges that face our nation today.

My perception of the “listening” session that Rehberg attended in Polson is that it was more of a chance for him to attempt to convince people that he is the representative with all of the right answers, and that the Democrats are the members of congress who have caused all the problems. His statements were filled with references to “we did” vs. “they did,” and “they” were always wrong. When presented with concerns about funding for Planned Parenthood and Pell grants, he proceeded to defend his vote instead of simply “listening.” Unfortunately, there were enough “Teapublicans” in attendance to blindly support his misguided contentions.

I readily agree that our leaders need to consider reasonable ways to reform the way we collect and spend the funds that pay for government services. This consideration needs to be made by 535 representatives who understand that their job is to work together for the betterment of all Americans, not just the wealthy who provide campaign funding. The adjustments cannot just be to the spending. If we are to pay off the deficit, all of us need to be prepared to contribute. The amount of contribution should be proportionate to one’s ability to pay, based on a reasonable assessment of essential needs.

There will no doubt always be differing ideologies, but America will best be served by a government guided by a set of values that provide for fair treatment of all of our citizens, whether wealthy or not. We need leaders who are willing to accept the responsibility of governing, and not try to blame someone else for failures.

Edd Blackler


State workers disparaged

Posted on Thu, May 5, 2011 at 4:00 AM

I am a state employee looking for work. I enjoy my job now as a research analyst, I like my coworkers, and I am generally happy here. I do not, however, seem to deserve the respect of the 62nd Montana Legislature, led by the Republican Party. For this reason, I write this open letter to any employer who will reward me for my skills, knowledge, abilities, motivation, and success.

One argument the legislative leadership made was that our state salaries were much higher than the average Montanan’s. While this may be true, I have an economics degree and two years of postgraduate work in communication studies. I have worked as an economist, regulatory analyst, government affairs director for a local building industry association, and now a research analyst. I have also taught myself Bayesian econometrics, data mining, and GIS mapping over the last year. In addition to these self-taught skills, I excel with SQL, Crystal Reports, MS Office, and the statistical package R. I have worked on performance metrics, economic analysis for policy makers, coalition building, cost estimates, and data quality assurance. Such unique and specialized skills are not available to the average Montanan but are ubiquitous to the average state employee. The legislative leadership argued that no one in their districts got raises. No one? That is difficult to believe. Ultimately, though, I’m not looking for a new job to get higher wages, I’m looking for a new job that rewards me. I’m a motivated self-starter who could make nearly twice as much in salary in the national market. I love Montana, however, and would like to stay.

The legislative leadership wanted more spending cuts so everyone’s tax dollars could be used for fewer services than they receive now—not lower taxes. I have a much stronger sense of civic duty than the leadership. I strive to provide the best, peer-reviewed work possible to my management so that it may serve the public. Improvements and customer service development drive most of my work. I want to work for someone who values these ideas too, rather than someone who’d prefer I cut corners and do more with less.

Is my request for a new job unreasonable? Do I come off sounding whiney? Consider for a moment the scrutiny state employees face. Consider that our paychecks are used as pawns by people you elect—not our management! I love my job. I love Montana. I would love to work for someone who appreciates that and rewards me accordingly, not someone who dismisses me and my work based on ideology.

If my skills, knowledge, and abilities interest you, please feel to contact me. My résumé is ready. If you have a job for me, I’ll be handing my notice to the state and walking out the door.

Ryan Morton



Posted on Thu, May 5, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Recently, in a conversation with a few acquaintances, a remark was made: There is not a French restaurant in this town. We need a strictly French restaurant with five- and seven-course meals. How can a hue and cry be raised to pick an enterprising entrepreneur to present the fruition of this French idea?

Robert MacDonnell


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