Today, March 11, 2011, the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee considered HB 161, to repeal medical marijuana in Montana. The committee heard testimony from both sides for several hours, and took no action on the bill. That probably means they’ll vote on it next week.
Here are some random thoughts about my experience in Helena today:
There was a tremendous crowd of medical cannabis supporters there. Hundreds. Because the hearing room was not nearly big enough, the government set up an extra large room for people to watch the hearing live on a big screen, and there were several other big TVs on carts for people to watch in the hallway. They were all needed, as the crowd was overflowing. Kudos to everyone who came, and the especially growers who paid for buses to transport patients to the hearing from across the state!
Most people dressed up for the occasion, though not all. Tshirts, camouflage, lots of “bling”, sideways ball caps, and so forth, are probably not helpful when addressing a legislative committee. Presentation matters. At least take your hat off when addressing a legislative committee, folks.
When I first arrived, during the pro-repeal testimony, there was a group of maybe thirty anti-repeal folks gathered around one of the televisions in the hallway. As the pro-repeal testimony was broadcast from the room thirty feet away, the group was booing loudly and ridiculing the citizen testifying. I learned later that this was easy to hear from the committee room.
I talked to a young man outside the building later in the day and expressed my concerns about the hooligan-like behavior of our people inside. He was surprised — he thought that an exuberant display would be helpful, like at protests and rallies.
Here’s my thinking on the topic: Legislative hearings are not rallies or protests. If we seem like hooligans, impolite and unprofessional and unruly, we run the risk of inspiring more support for repeal among legislators who are put off by our behavior. In other words, we’re doing the opposite of what we intend. On the other hand, if we look and speak like them, reasonable, rational, rule-following citizens, more possibility for dialogue and productive debate exists. We won’t change all their minds, but at least we can discuss the topic with people on the fence.
People I trust told me that the pro-repeal crowd was there in greater numbers, and better organized, than previous hearings.
The pro-repeal testimony that I saw was, generally, fact-free hysteria.
Nobody wants their community destroyed by drugs, and substance abuse is a serious social health problem — even marijuana, for some people. Where the repeal crowd’s argument loses me completely is in their assumption that a return to complete prohibition will make anything better. That makes no sense to me.
There was some tear-jerking testimony from our crowd — people with serious, awful, debilitating conditions, for whom marijuana represents nothing less than a miracle. Just a few of those stories should be enough to stop repeal, but we’ll see.
Unfortunately, there was also a few bits of rambling testimony about the problems of booze and pills, and the massive profits that legal marijuana would bring to entrepreneurs. And there was one presenter who focused entirely on international treaties and federal law. I’m interested, but I’m not sure it was well received at this meeting. If you gave that testimony, contact me, because I want to understand the topic better.
Federal patient Irv Rosenfeld testified during the informational witness portion of the hearing and, despite efforts to silence him due to procedural rules, was given the floor for a few minutes by Senator Anders Blewett (D – Great Falls), who deserves your thanks.
Outside in the hallway, there were legislative assistants with clipboards asking everyone to sign in if they wished their position on the bill to be recorded. This was required if you testified, and encouraged if you did not. I signed in as an opponent (to repeal), and the young woman told me that a lot of people were confused by the form. I can see why: “repeal” and “opponent” seem aligned, as both are against something.
She even showed me on her clipboard where a several people representing “Green-something Caregivers” had signed in as proponents, assuming (incorrectly) they were supporting medical marijuana by registering as proponents. Tip: always read the top of the page, which explains that you’re registering as a proponent or opponent for a certain bill — in this case, HB 161, to repeal medical marijuana.
All in all, the testimony of many patients, and the size of our crowd, were encouraging. People I trust who are close to the legislative process, however, tell me the situation is grim. Even if repeal is defeated, getting a workable, compassionate regulation bill through both the Senate and House will be a challenge, and there is no guarantee that patients will be adequately protected nor any cannabusinesses allowed to exist.
If you live in Montana and are reading this in mid-March 2011, you should contact your legislator personally and express your views.
Find your legislators here: http://nris.mt.gov/gis/legislat/2011/
Handwritten letters have the greatest impact, though other options are listed here: http://blog.montananorml.org/2011/01/18/how-to-contact-montana-legislators/