Last spring, a federal judge sentenced Montana Cannabis co-founder Richard Flor to five years in federal custody for maintaining "drug-involved premises."
Flor is now being held at the Crossroads Correctional Facility, in Shelby, while awaiting transfer to a federal institution. The 68-year-old has dementia and osteoporosis. His lawyer notes in court documents filed July 12 that while incarcerated, the former caregiver fell out of bed and broke both his clavicle and a cervical bone. He also re-injured broken ribs hurt during another fall while in custody.
Flor's attorneys argued that the caregiver believed he was selling cannabis under the protection of the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, which 62 percent of voters supported in 2004. Despite that, Flor was sent to prison. His case and that of dozens of others like him, individuals indicted after the federal government ramped up medical marijuana policing in 2011, highlights an ongoing conflict between state and federal laws.
Judges cite the Supremacy Clause, which says federal law trumps state law when there's conflict between the two, when denying defendants like Flor the right to use the state's Medical Marijuana Act as a shield.
A group of federal lawmakers last week introduced a bill that could change how much weight state medical marijuana mandates carry. Instead of simply deferring to federal law, which holds marijuana is a schedule I narcotic and therefore dangerous, the bill would enable judges and juries to evaluate whether defendants were in compliance with state marijuana laws. The law would also compel the federal government to return items seized in the process of policing drug activity if a defendant is later found to be in compliance with state directives. Flor and his family "forfeited" their home, six vehicles and several guns. They were also ordered to pay $288,000.
It's tough to say if the Truth in Trials Act could have helped Flor. Prosecutors said that, even if his attorneys could use state law as a defense, Flor was acting well outside of state law.
Still, as the U.S. House of Representatives begins to deliberate the new bill, we find it troubling that Montana's congressional delegation has remained mum on medical marijuana. After all, who better to assert the interests of Montanans when they're ground up in a conflict between state and federal laws?