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On Aug. 29, Kristin Flor packed quickly. She had just learned that her father, Richard Flor, suffered two heart attacks while en route from the Crossroads Correctional Facility in Shelby to an undisclosed federal detention center. He was hospitalized in Las Vegas.
Richard Flor, who was a part owner of Montana Cannabis, was the first registered caregiver in Montana. When Kristin arrived at the hospital, her 68-year-old father was still alive. Two guards watched over him. Richard’s mouth moved when he saw her, but no words came out. Though he was still handcuffed to the bed, Richard squeezed Kristin’s hand.
“He died in his shackles,” she says.
In April, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell sentenced Richard Flor to five years in federal custody for maintaining drug-involved premises. Richard Flor’s wife and son were also prosecuted for their roles maintaining a medical marijuana business from their Miles City home and from a Billings dispensary.
According to the federal indictment, the Flors “possessed firearms in order to facilitate the drug trafficking crimes…to protect caches of marijuana plants…and proceeds obtained from the distribution of marijuana, and to intimidate those who challenged the manner in which the conspiracy was conducted.” Kristin, who’s 36 and the mother of two, explains her father was a lifelong hunter and gun collector.
“They try to portray my dad like he was the leader of a gang,” she says. “It’s completely ridiculous to me how they can discredit him so much.”
She says a better description of her dad is “a hippie” and a “little bit of a rebel.” Though the Miles City native had no college degree, he loved to write and always knew the answers to questions posed on the TV show “Jeopardy.” He sold siding and real estate until helping launch Montana Cannabis in 2009.
The March 2011 raids changed everything for the family. The federal government seized several of the Flor family’s cars, all of the guns and the family home, which had been handed down from Kristin’s grandparents. “He felt really guilty about losing the house,” Kristin says.
“They took everything,” she adds. “They took his freedom, they took his dignity, his pride, everything he had and stripped him until he was dead.”
She now sees Richard Flor’s inability to access marijuana while in prison as partially responsible for his rapid decline in health. Her father was taking more than 30 different medicines and vitamins to treat his ailments, including osteoporosis and diabetes. While incarcerated, she says he also broke both his clavicle and a cervical bone falling out of bed. She alleges Crossroads didn’t give her father access to his full complement of prescription medicines, and is “seriously contemplating” filing a lawsuit.
Corrections Corp. of America, a privately held company, owns Crossroads. Steve Owen, a Corrections Corp. spokesperson, cited privacy concerns when declining to comment on Flor’s specific care. But Owen defended the institution in a written statement.
“Our dedicated, professional corrections and medical staff at Crossroads are firmly committed to the health and safety of the inmates entrusted to our care; we meet or exceed the rigorous and comprehensive standards of our government partners…” Owen said. “The facility and staff are subject to strong oversight.”
Kristin says her father’s story isn’t just about problems with the prison system or medical marijuana. “It’s also over how wrong the system is, it’s over how wrong the laws are,” she says. “It’s over how a man can end up in that situation in the first place.”
During the weeks leading up to Chris Williams’ Sept. 24 trial in Helena, the former Montana Cannabis partner found a new home for his dog. He also made sure his 16-year-old son Sage was ready to start college classes at Montana State University.
Williams is preparing to be sent away for a long time. He’s the only Montana Cannabis partner to fight the federal drug charges. Williams’ attorney has said an innocent plea isn’t likely to elicit lenience from the court. Williams is well aware of that. But he’s stubborn. It’s about principle, he says.
“The concept that the government should be able to tell you that you can’t grow a plant and use it as medication for yourself just seems crazy to me,” he says.
Because federal law trumps state law when the two conflict, former cannabis providers facing federal prosecution have not been allowed to shield themselves with Montana’s Medical Marijuana Act. That means Williams is barred from using the state law as a defense in court.
Williams’ former Montana Cannabis partner, Missoula attorney Chris Lindsey, is pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises. The father of an 8-year-old son, he says he doesn’t see any other recourse.
Despite Lindsey’s legal challenges, the attorney continues to serve on the Montana Cannabis Industry Association Board and defend former caregivers and medical marijuana patients from federal prosecution. Lindsey is fearful for his future and that of his family, but, he says, somebody has to lead.
“It’s important to me to be part of the change,” Lindsey says. “Social change does not come without risk.” Among Lindsey’s tasks is to raise awareness about IR 124, a Montana initiative asking voters if they want to reject the 2011 Montana Legislature’s changes to the state’s medical marijuana law. SB 423 crippled Montana’s cannabis industry, largely by taking the profit out of caregiving.
If voters say “no” to IR 124 in November, SB 423 gets tossed and state law would revert back to the 2004 Medical Marijuana Act. Lindsey says medical marijuana proponents don’t want a return to the “Wild, Wild West,” a free-for-all with cannabis caravans and assembly line clinics. What the industry does want is a more specific law, one that gives patients, providers and law enforcement predictability and reassurance.
“We want the legislature to go back and do a better law,” he says. “If the voters want this, our elected officials owe it to them to get it right.”
Once Montana gets its house in order, advocates will have a stronger pitch to take to Montana’s congressional delegation. One mechanism to reschedule marijuana under federal law is through congressional action.
Montana’s congressional delegation, however, doesn’t appear poised to take on that cause anytime soon. In fact, marijuana advocates and civil libertarians are decrying their relative silence.
“One of the questions that befuddles me is, where is our congressional delegation on this issue?” asks Scott Chrichton, director of the Montana ACLU. “Why are they just completely silent? And I don’t have an answer for that.”
Daubert points out that there was hardly a peep from the congressional delegation after the raids. He found that puzzling after each member quickly cried foul in September 2011, when the federal government moved to ban gun ownership among medical marijuana patients. Sen. Jon Tester, for instance, fired off a letter to the Department of Justice, urging it to reconsider its stance, saying, “These regulatory changes infringe upon the privacy and Second Amendment rights of Montanans.”
The Independent contacted each member of Montana’s congressional delegation for this article, specifically asking about the lack of substantive discourse on the issue of medical marijuana. Sen. Max Baucus’ spokeswoman issued a two-sentence response via email, as did Tester’s campaign. Rep. Denny Rehberg’s campaign did not respond.
Baucus’ spokeswoman said, “Max believes patients and their doctors should have every appropriate tool to manage pain and their health care choices within the law, while also ensuring the system is not being abused.” Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts introduced legislation last year to reschedule cannabis under federal law, but the bill is languishing in committee. The states, meanwhile, continue to mount efforts to loosen marijuana restrictions. Some, like Oregon, Colorado and Washington state, are contemplating legalizing the drug altogether this November.
The Washington state initiative would make marijuana possession legal for adults 21 and older. The drug would be grown by licensed farmers and sold in private marijuana-only stores, also licensed and taxed by the state. Forty percent of tax revenue generated by the program would go into the state’s general fund and local municipalities, while the rest of the proceeds would pay for substance abuse prevention programs, education and health care. The law would create a new marijuana DUI standard that would operate like the state’s drunken driving law.
It remains to be seen how the federal government would respond to legalization.