Montana Medical Marijuana Patients Have Started Dying in Prison

Code of the West is a revealing look at the battle for medical marijuana in Montana. The rural red state threw open its doors to medical marijuana for a few years before slamming them shut again in 2011. Caught in middle were patients and growers, some of whom got eighty years in federal prison for growing pot.

On The Nation‘s blog, Liliana Segura catches up with filmmaker Rebecca Cohen who is working to update Code of the West. How does a guy get eighty years in jail for growing a plant? Mandatory minimums.

“Prosecutors often use these threats of draconian mandatory minimums to force people to take pleas. You see almost none of those cases go to trial because rational people [fear]the charges against them. Chris (Williams) was growing and selling medical marijuana. He had guns at the growhouse. So, in terms of those facts, he’s largely guilty of what he’s accused of.

“Most people wouldn’t want to test that in front of a jury. But Chris really wanted his day in court, and he wanted to expose the story of how unjust these prosecutorial tactics are.”

– Read the entire article at Smell the Truth.

Comments

6 Comments

  1. Vlad on

    How can this happen to an honest man? Don’t those people have any sense at all, do they just follow laws blindly?

  2. VERMONT PROBLEM on

    MEDICAL MARIJUANA & HEMP ACTIVIST
    EMILY PEYTON FILES LAWSUIT
    AGAINST MAJOR MEDIA IN VERMONT
    FOR EXCLUSION
    FROM DEBATES & FORUMS
    AS A 2012 GOVERNOR CANDIDATE.

    MAJOR MEDIA NEWSPAPER RESPONDS:
    _____________________________________________
    STATE OF VERMONT
    SUPERIOR COURT ….. CIVIL DIVISION
    CHITTENDEN UNIT….. Docket No. 1115-10-12 Cncv
    EMILY PEYTON,
    Plaintiff

    v.

    THE BURLINGTON FREE PRESS,
    WPTZ NEWS CHANNEL 5,
    WCAX, and
    VERMONT LEAGUE OF CITIES AND TOWNS,
    Defendants

    MOTION TO DISMISS AND
    OPPOSITION TO MOTION FOR
    PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
    ______________________________
    Gannett Vermont Publishing, Inc.
    d/b/a/ the Burlington Free Press
    (the “Free Press”)
    through its counsel, Gravel and Shea PC,
    opposes Plaintiff’s motion for a
    preliminary injunction,
    and seeks dismissal of this action for the
    reasons set forth below.

    Memorandum
    _____________
    Plaintiff Emily Peyton is an independent
    candidate for governor.
    She seks to force a private newspaper to
    include her in a political debate in order
    to afford her a broader platform to
    express her views. Settle law, however,
    protects a private entity from publishing
    a message it does not want to convey.

    Even a public broadcaster need not grant a
    candidate access to a debate as long as it does
    not engage in viewpoint discrimination.
    Arkansas Educ. Tele. Comm’n v. Forbes,
    523 U.S. 666, 682 (1998).
    Greater protection exists for a private newspaper.
    The government may not compel
    a newspaper to publish that which it believes
    it should not.
    Miami Herald Publishing Co. v Tornillo,
    418 U.S. 241, 256 (1974).
    More recently, a unanimous Supreme Court
    reaffirmed that the government may not
    interfere with a private party’s decision
    not to advance a particular point of view.
    Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and
    Bi-Sexual Group of Boston,
    515 U.S. 557, 573 (1995).

    Facts Alleged in Complaint
    _________________________
    Emily Peyton is an independent candidate for
    Governor of the State of Vermont.
    (Mot. Emer. Inj. at l.)1
    Ms. Peyton asserts that she has obtained
    500 signatures entitling her to be
    included on the ballot. Id.
    Ms Peyton alleges that the Free Press has
    scheduled debates on October 23 and 24,
    Id. at 3.
    She alleges that the defendants “are all planning
    to promote the open public scrutiny of public
    policy and proposed by Governor Shumlin and
    Senator Brock, and prevent public scutiny of
    candidate Peyton’s platform.”
    Id. at 1.

    Additional Facts
    _______________
    The Free Press, a privately owned newspaper,
    has viewpoint neutral criteria for determining
    who it will invite to its political debates.
    Referencing Vermont law, the Free Press
    invites candidates who qualify as “major”
    party candidates under 17 V.S.A. Section 2103(23).
    In the past, the Free Press has invited third party
    candidates when they exceed 5% voting threshold.

    The Free Press has also provided media coverage
    concerning third party candidates, including Ms. Peyton.
    An example of that coverage can be found at:
    http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps.pbcs.dll/article?
    AID=2012310040040&nclick_check-1.

    ___________________
    1 For clarity, the Free Press has designated as
    page 1, the page that starts at the top with
    “Motion for Emergency Injunction.”
    _________________________________

    gravel & shea
    76 St. Paul Street
    Post Office Box 369
    Burlington, Vermont 05402-0369
    A PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION
    __
    -2-

    Argument
    _______________
    I. THE COURT SHOULD DISMISS MS. PEYTONS’S
    CLAIMS WITH PREJUDICE.
    The Court should dismiss Ms. Peyton’s claims
    against the Free Press.
    The First Amendment of the United States
    Constitution gives the press a Constitutional
    right to make editorial decisions about the
    content it prints and more importantly,
    what it decides not to print.
    In Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo,
    418 U.S. 241, 243 (1974),
    a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives
    sought to enforce a state statute
    that required a newspaper to give the candidate
    an opportunity to reply
    to criticism that appeared in the newspaper.
    The Court held the statute was unconstitutional
    and that a candidate may not compel
    a newspaper to
    to publish content that it did not want to publish.
    “If it is governmental coercion,
    this at once brings about a confrontation
    with the express provisions of the
    First Amendment
    and the judicial gloss on that Amendment
    developed over the years.”
    Id. at 254.
    After reviewing the case law,
    the Court stated that the “clear implication has been
    that any such compulsion to publish
    that which ” ‘ reason ‘ tells them should not
    be published ‘ is unconstitutional.”
    Id. at 256.

    Recently, the United States Supreme Court
    unanimously reaffirmed the principle
    advanced in Miami Herald.
    See Hurley v. Irish-American Gay,
    Lesbian,
    and Bisexual Group of Boston,
    515 U.S. 557, 569 (1995).
    In Hurley, the Court held that a private group
    that organized a parade
    on public streets
    did not have to include groups
    that had viewpoints
    with which it disagreed.
    “[I]t boils down to the choice of a speaker
    not to propound a particular point of view,
    and that choice is presumed to lie
    beyond the government’s power to control.”
    Id. at 574.
    It did not matter to the Court
    that the speaker was synthesizing its speech
    from the crontibutions of other speakers.
    “But a private speaker does not
    forefeit constitutional protection
    simply by combining multifarious voices,
    or by failing to edit their themes
    to isolate
    an exact message
    as the exlusive subject matter of the speech.”
    Id. at 569-70.
    “For that matter, the presentation of an edited
    _______________
    -3-
    ________________
    compilation of speech generated by other persons
    is a staple of most newspapers’ opinion pages,
    which, of course, fall squarely within the core of
    First Amendment security.”
    Id at 570.

    In this case, Ms. Peyton asserts that the defendants
    are discrminatinn against her
    because her view is presently not accepted
    or well known
    as those of main stream candidates.
    She states that “the forenamed defendants
    are all planning to promote the open public
    scrutiny of public policy and [sic] proposed by the
    Governor Shumlin and Senator Brock, and prevent
    public scrutiny of candidate Peyton’s platform.”
    The First Amendment, however, protects the
    right of private parties to engage in precisely this
    behavior. Thus, even if Ms. Peytons’s allegations
    were true, which they are not, the Free Press
    would still be entitled to dismissal with prejudice.
    Ms. Peyton’s attempt to have a state court force
    the Free Press to carry her message violates
    “the fundamental rule of protection under the
    First Amendment, that a speaker has the
    autonomy to choose the content of his own
    message.”
    Hurley, 515 U.S. at 573.

    In her Amended Complaint, Ms Peyton claims that
    the streaming of the debate over the internet
    subjects the Free Press to a different legal analysis.
    She reasons that streaming video is like
    broadcast television, therefore the F.C.C. regulations
    must govern the First Amendment analysis of
    streaming video.

    The Supreme Court has decided otherwise.
    Referncing its past decisional law concerning
    broadcast media, the Court drew a sharp
    distinction for the internet.
    “Neither before or after the CDA have the vast
    demoractic forums of the internet been subject to
    the type of government supervision and
    regulation that has attended the broadcast
    industry.”
    Reno v. ACLU,
    521 U.S. 844, 868-69 (1997).
    The Court expalined that the internet
    “provides relatively unlimited, low cost capacity
    for communication of all kinds.”
    Id at 869.
    “This dynamic, multifaceted category of communication
    includes not only traditional print and
    news services, but also audio, video and still images,
    as well as interactive, real-time dialogue.”
    Given the
    ______________
    -4-
    ________
    relatively low cost and the diversithy of opinion on the internet,
    the Supreme Court held “that our cases provide no basis for
    qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny
    that should be applied to the medium.” Id.

    II. MS. PEYTON SEEKS A PRIOR RESTRAINT.

    The injuction Ms. Peyton seeks amounts to a
    prior restraint.
    “A ‘prior restraint’ on speech is a law,
    regulation or judicial order
    that suppresses speech –
    or provides for its suppression
    at the discretion of government officials –
    on the basis of the speech’s content
    and in the advance of its actual expression.”
    United States v. Quattrone,
    402 F .3d 304, 309 (2d Cir. 2005).
    ” ‘[P]rior restraints [are] the most serious
    and least tolerabel infringement
    on First Amendment rights.’ ”
    Lusk v. Village of Cold Srping,
    475 F.3d 480, 485 (2d Cir. 2007)
    (quoting Neb. Press. Ass’n v. Stuart,
    427 U.S. 539, 559 (1976);
    see also United States v. Quattrone,
    402 F.3d 304, 309 (2d Cir. 2005)
    (citations omitted). “An injunction against speech is
    nearly always unconstitutional.”
    Luck, 475 F.3d at 487 n.6.
    The United States Supreme Court has long held that
    a prior restraint
    was the principal historic reason for passing the First Amendment.
    Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, 713 (1931).
    “For many years it has been clearly established that
    ‘any prior restraint on expression comes to this Court
    with a ‘heavy presumption’ against its constitutional validity.”
    CBS, Inc. v. Davis, 510 U.S. 1315 (1994)
    (Blackman, Circuit Justice).

    The CBS case shows just how disfavored prior restraints are.
    Id. CBS involved an attempt to prevent CBS from
    broadcasting an investigative journalism piece about the
    meat packing employee wearing a hidden camera.
    One day after the South Dakota Supreme Court refused to
    stay the enforcement of a preliminary injunction barring
    the dissemination of the news program, a single Justice
    of the United States Supreme Court stayed the injunction, permitting
    ___________
    -5-
    _________
    the program to go ahead. The extraordinary action
    of Justice Blackman acting alone for a Supreme
    Court in session shows how disfavored prior
    restraints are on the news media.
    Id. at 1317.
    Where a direct prior restraint is imposed on the media,
    “each passing day may constitute a separate and
    cognizable infringement of the First Amendment.” Id.

    To grant Ms. Peyton relief, this Court would
    necessarily restrain the speech that the Free Press
    currently plans to disseminate during the debates.
    Ms. Peyton has proffered nothing that would
    overcome the heavy presumption against the
    Constitutional validity of the injunction
    she seeks.

    III. BECAUSE THE FREE PRESS HAS A NON-DISCRIMINATORY
    POLICY ON THE INCLUSION OF CANDIDATES,
    MS. PEYTON IS UNLIKELY TO SUCCEED ON THE MERITS.

    Contrary to Ms. Peyton’s allegations, the Free Press
    has a non-discrminatory policy for access to its debates.
    Specifically, candidates that exceed the 5% major party
    threshold are invited to the debates.2
    The ability to determine which candidates may
    participate on this sort of basis was upheld in the
    case of Arkansas Educ. Tele. Comm’n v. Forbes,
    523 U.S. 666,
    682 (1998).
    In that case, “an independent candidate with little
    popular support” sued a “state-owned
    public television broadcaster” seeking an injunction
    and damages. id. at 669.
    The Court held that generally, “[p]ublic and private
    broadcasters alike are not only permitted, but
    indeed required, to exercise substantial editorial
    discretion in the selection and presentation of their
    programming.” Id at 673.
    The Court further held that in general, “the nature of
    editorial discretion counsels against subjecting
    broadcasters to claims of viewpoint discrimination.”
    Id.
    Only a very narrow sense of denying “access to a
    candidate debate on the basis of whethere it agrees
    with a candidate’s views” can a party assert a claim
    against a public broadcaster. Id. at
    _______________________________________
    2. “A ‘mjor political party’ is a political party
    whose candidate for any stat office
    in the most recent general election polled
    at least 5 percent of the vote cast
    for that office.” 17 V.S.A. Section 2103(23).
    _________________________________
    -6-
    ________________________
    676. The Court upheld as non-discriminatory the
    candidate’s exclusion because of “his own
    objective lack of support.” Id. at 683.

    The policies of the Free Press demonstrate that it
    complies with even the test for a public
    broadcaster, even though it is in fact a private
    newspaper.
    The Free Press does not discriminate on the basis
    of the viewpoint of a particular candidate.
    Instead, it has its own objective criteria
    for determining whether or not to allow
    participation at the debate.
    Ms. Peyton’s allegations show that she
    does not have the support to exceed the
    5% threshold for a major party candidate.
    Even if the Court ignores her failure to provide
    evidence, her allegation that she has obtained
    500 signatures is insufficient to meet that
    threshold.3

    IV. THE BALANCE OF THE HARDSHIP TIPS
    DECIDEDLY IN FAOVR OF THE FREE PRESS.

    Ms. Peyton has failed to identify any
    irreparable injury, much less prove it with
    evidence. The Free Press will suffer the
    real irreparable injury if the Court enters
    an injunction that compels it to speak and
    deprives it of its First Amendment rights.
    “[T]he loss of First Amendment freedoms
    for even minimal periods of time
    constitutes irreparable injury.”
    See Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347,
    373-74 (1976)

    Dated: Burlington Vermont
    October 31, 2012
    signature
    Robert B. Hemley, Esq.
    Matthew B. Byrne, Esq.
    Gravel & Shea PC
    76 St. Paul Street,
    7th Floor,
    P.O. Box 369
    Burlington, VT 05403-0369
    (802)658-0220
    [email protected]
    For Defendant
    ___________________
    3 According to the Secretary of State’s
    website, there are approximately
    450,000 registered voters in Vermont.
    Ms. Peytons’ 500 signatures
    amount to one ninth of 1% of the total.
    _______________________________________

  3. Anonymous on

    What an uneducated comment that is! Let me guess, you’re one of those people who thinks we are still riding horses and fighting the “Indians” up here. It was the FEDS who did this, not the state of Montana. They could do this in any state that has legalized medical or recreational marijuana. We need to stop the war on drugs at a federal level, so the feds can’t target the states who have chosen to have a progressive view on marijuana. If “Montana is a sh–hole, Nazi state” is what you derived from this, maybe you should smoke a bowl and open up your mind to the bigger picture.

  4. Anonymous on

    Montana must be a real shthole. Sane people should move away from there as soon as possible. Americans are now caught up in deciding where to live. Some states have freedom while others are Nazi police states.