The lucky one 

Tom Daubert was an architect of the state's medical marijuana law. Now he's a convicted felon.

Tom Daubert stands flanked by two attorneys at the Russell Smith Federal Courthouse in Missoula, in front of a judge who can sentence him up to 20 years in prison, and pleads his case one last time. He wears a dark suit that contrasts his white beard, and speaks in a measured tone.

“I would say this is the worst day of my life,” he tells the judge, noting the last 18 months haven’t been great either. “I am ruined in many respects.”

Daubert was a successful lobbyist and public relations consultant for 35 years, working mostly in Montana for groups like the hard rock mining industry, the Helena Chamber of Commerce and the Montana Stockgrowers Association. More recently, he’s known for his work on behalf of legalizing medical marijuana and as a primary author of Montana’s 2004 Medical Marijuana Act. In April, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises. The charge resulted from his involvement in Montana Cannabis, at one time among the largest dispensaries in the state. Daubert always envisioned Montana Cannabis as a model for how a caregiver ought to operate.

Daubert had no criminal record before the felony conviction in April. He’s a Princeton graduate who holds a master’s degree in forestry and resource conservation from the University of Montana. He worked for the Montana Environmental Information Center and later from his Helena office of Daubert & Associates. But today he says he is living on borrowed money. His finances were already bleak before the 2011 legislative session, when he tried desperately to reform Montana’s medical marijuana law. The March 2011 raids of Montana Cannabis and dozens of others like it across the state only worsened Daubert’s professional prospects, pushing him closer to bankruptcy.

“I had all kinds of aspirations as a kid,” he tells the judge during the Sept. 6 hearing. “Being a federal felon was never one of them.”

The courtroom is full and most in attendance are here to learn the fate of their friend and colleague. Daubert’s former Montana Cannabis partner, Chris Lindsey, sits with his eyes closed. A woman on the bench in the back row clenches her purse and quietly weeps. Democratic state Sen. Ron Erickson, of Missoula, leans forward to listen. Erickson first met the defendant in the late ‘70s at UM, when Daubert was earning his master’s degree.

Friends say the typically optimistic Daubert seems tired these days. His fatigue comes through in his voice, more subdued than it once was. He’s almost 60. The stress of the medical marijuana crackdown and trial has worn on him.

“I’m not blaming anyone but myself,” he tells the judge. “I am a person who has never sought to hurt others, only to help them.”

click to enlarge Tom Daubert leaves the Missoula County Courthouse after a federal judge sentences him to five years probation. - CHAD HARDER
  • Chad Harder
  • Tom Daubert leaves the Missoula County Courthouse after a federal judge sentences him to five years probation.

Dozens of people submitted character letters to the court on Daubert’s behalf. Nine-term U.S. Congressman Pat Williams says Daubert is trustworthy. Former Seattle Police Chief Norman Stamper, who now works with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, calls it “grossly unfortunate and unfair” for Daubert to be characterized as a criminal. Roy Kemp, who oversees the medical marijuana program for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, attests to Daubert’s efforts to reform the 2004 marijuana law. Even Daubert’s ex-wife writes in his defense.

The prosecutor acknowledges Daubert’s case is unique. “There’s a lot of good to be said about this defendant,” he says. He still suggests a six-to-eight year sentence would be appropriate. Despite Montana’s Medical Marijuana Act, federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. According to the federal government, marijuana has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse; cocaine is classified in Schedule II, a lower tier level than marijuana.

“It is my judgement that you will hereby be placed on probation for a term of five years,” says Judge Dana Christensen at the end of the sentencing.

click to enlarge Cover.jpg

The judge goes on to explain that Daubert must serve 300 hours of community service and finish paying off $50,000 in fines, the approximate profit that he made during his 18 months at Montana Cannabis. He’s ordered to stay away from marijuana and isn’t allowed to exceed the legal driving limit on alcohol, or .08 on a Breathalyzer test. The judge says he won’t order that Daubert be drug tested.

Daubert’s case is over, but much of his life remains unsettled. He may be able to finally move on from 18 months of legal issues, but when asked what he plans to do next he shrugs his shoulders and says, “When you find out, let me know.” He describes himself as thankful. He knows things could have been, as they are for so many others stuck in the industry’s fallout, much worse.

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