Testing medical marijuana

| January 26, 2006

A recent marijuana bust by Ravalli County officials in the home of a medical marijuana user promises to flesh out Montana’s new and relatively untested medical marijuana law.

Ravalli officers arrested Bob Meharg at his home near Florence Jan. 11 and confiscated nine marijuana plants and about 2 ounces of marijuana, along with paraphernalia including a pipe and gardening gear. Agents also seized Meharg’s car, saying it was used to aid illegal actions, and charged him with three felonies carrying a potential total of 25 years in prison.

Meharg, 52, has suffered from diabetes and associated amputations and nerve damage for more than 30 years, as well as degenerative bone disease. He says he discussed and established his use of medical marijuana with his doctor as part of his treatment and that his medical records reflect his doctor’s recommendation. At the time of his arrest, though, Meharg wasn’t on Montana’s medical marijuana registry, which protects medicinal users from prosecution, due to concerns that federal officials would use the information to prosecute him.

However, Montana’s law, passed overwhelmingly by Montana voters in 2004, includes an “Affirmative Defense” clause that protects people prosecuted for marijuana if they “ha[ve] a physician who states that or has medical records that indicate that…the potential benefits of medical marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks for the person.”

Since the law’s recent implementation, that provision hasn’t been tested, though at least one case similar to Meharg’s is presently working its way through the courts.

Julio Morales, Meharg’s attorney, says he’s exploring that defense but didn’t comment further. Ravalli County Attorney George Corn declined to discuss the matter until it’s progressed in court.

Meanwhile, Meharg is trying to recover his car so he can address his medical problems. Last week, the military veteran and retired nurse hitchhiked to Missoula for a doctor’s appointment after his partially amputated foot became infected during his jail stay. He says he’s determined to fight his charges: “If they won’t show compassion for the sick and impaired, what will they show for the average citizen? None,” Meharg says.

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