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SEILER: 1 dead in Obama Administration attack on medical-marijuana

By   /   September 11, 2012  /   22 Comments

By John Seiler | Watchdog.org

John Seiler

HELENA — Even though Montanans voted 62-38 percent in a 2004 referendum to allow medical marijuana, provider Richard Flor recently died while in federal custody, a victim of the Obama Administration’s ongoing crackdown on medical marijuana.

His death highlights conflicts between the federal government and state initiative. Medical marijuana is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

“Richard Flor’s death came weeks after a federal judge denied an attorney’s request to release the 68-year-old Miles City resident while he appealed his five-year sentence,” reported the Associated Press. “U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell wrote in his Aug. 7 order that it was ‘unfortunate’ that Flor’s transfer to a Bureau of Prisons medical facility was delayed, but ‘it is not factually or legally significant.’

Montana medical marijuana provider Richard Flor died last month while in federal custody.

“Lovell sentenced Flor in April after Flor pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug-involved premises. Flor previously was diagnosed with dementia, depression and numerous medical conditions, and Lovell recommended that he be evaluated by federal prison hospital officials to determine what facility would be best suited for him.”

For Flor, a five-year conviction turned into a death sentence.

AP continued, “Flor was one of the co-founders of the now-defunct Montana Cannabis, which provided marijuana for about 300 people out of locations in Helena, Missoula and Billings, and from Flor’s Miles City home. It was one of the largest medical marijuana operations to be raided by federal agents in March 2011 in a crackdown on large providers.

“Three of his former partners are either facing or have pleaded guilty to similar federal drug charges after protesting that they were operating in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.”

Campaigning in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged, “I’m not going to be using Justice Departmentresources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”

But he has done the opposite.

President Barack Obama

In April 2012, the president, who once taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, explained to Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, “Here’s what’s up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana — and the reason is because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, ‘Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.’ What I can say is, ‘Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.’ As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

“The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, ‘This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.’ That’s not something we’re going to do. I do think it’s important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws. One of the things we’ve done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We’ve had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue. I think that’s an appropriate debate that we should have.”

Bringing up the change in crack cocaine sentencing is ironic. CNN reported last November, “Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in August 2010, changing the 100-to-1 disparity between minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine to 18 to 1.” The reason: black defendants disproportionally were being given long sentences – a five-year minimum – for crack cocaine while powder-cocaine defendants, who largely are white, were given smaller sentences for the same amount of the contraband drug.

So Flor’s sentence for marijuana was the same as the old, pre-Obama sentence for crack cocaine.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

After Obama became president, his more tolerant attitude toward medical marijuana was instituted by his attorney general, Eric Holder. On Oct. 19, 2009, Holder announced new guidelines: “It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal. This balanced policy formalizes a sensible approach that the Department has been following since January:  effectively focus our resources on serious drug traffickers while taking into account state and local laws.”

That was three years ago before the recent crackdown. “This was a 180-degree change by President Obama that started only in November 2011,” said Allen St. Pierreexecutive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Since then, an estimated 400 collectives and dispensaries have been shut down in California alone without a change in law. He came into office saying something different.”

The president also has acknowledged toking marijuana when he was younger, as have former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

St. Pierre said Obama now is worried that, in the 2012 election, he would be labeled as someone who effectively legalized marijuana. However, the crackdown is being conducted selectively in states where the presidential election is not being strongly contested, such as in heavily Democratic California and in Montana, which is expected to vote fairly strongly for Republican Mitt Romney.

By contrast, there’s no crackdown in Colorado, a battleground state where medical-marijuana supporters’ votes are needed. “Colorado even has a state medical-marijuana enforcement division that makes sure they’re selling, manufacturing and taxing it correctly,” St. Pierre said. That’s the state Department of Revenue, Medical Marijuana Division.

“Obama needs Colorado,” St. Pierre added. “He’s not laying waste to that industry with 2,000 dispensaries.”

St. Pierre’s view was seconded by a June 2 Reuters story. “[W]ith Obama facing a stiff challenge from Republican Mitt Romney in the November 6 election, it’s ironic that his chances of winning the key state of Colorado could hinge on marijuana legalization, supported by a growing number of Americans.

“At issue is whether Obama will get a boost from young voters expected to be among the most enthusiastic backers of a Colorado ballot initiative that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of pot for recreational use — and give the state the most liberal marijuana law in the nation.

“The initiative is a reflection of Colorado’s unique blend of laid-back liberalism and anti-regulation conservatism that helped make the state the birthplace of the Libertarian Party….

“The Rocky Mountain State already allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes such as severe pain relief, and some communities have embraced it enthusiastically.

“The prevalence of medical marijuana dispensaries in Denver has moved pot into the mainstream in Colorado’s capital city.

“In Denver County, home to about 600,000 people, one in every 41 residents is a registered medical marijuana patient, leading to chuckles about the ‘Mile High City.’ Denver is roughly a mile above sea level.”

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for vice president, also has appealed to Colorado medical-marijuana supporters. Speaking in Denver on Sept. 8, AP reported that he said, “It was up to Coloradans to decide” whether or not to legalize medical marijuana.

However, AP added, “A spokesman for Ryan later said that Ryan agrees with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has said that marijuana should never be legalized.

“Romney told a Colorado reporter earlier this year, ‘I think marijuana should not be legal in this country. I believe it’s a gateway drug to other drug violations.’”

So it’s unclear what would happen should the Romney-Ryan ticket win in November.

Part of Montana’s problem is that its state law is a mess, St. Pierre said, with the initiative and other state laws in conflict. To deal with that, Measure IR-204 is on the November 6 ballot. According to Ballotpedia, “The measure will place a legislative revision of an approved 2004 medical marijuana measure to a vote, instead of making it a law automatically. The measure was slated to become a law on May 13, 2011. To read more on the legislation that is seeking to revise the 2004 measure, click here. The petition to place the legislation on the ballot was filed with the Montana Secretary of State by John Masterson of Montana Cannabis Industry Association on May 12, 2011. The status of the referendum could be affected by a recent court ruling related to the newly passed revisions.”[2][3]

I called at least twice the offices of all the major candidates running for office in Montana this November 6: Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Denny Rehberg for U.S Senate; Democrat Steve Bullock and Republican Rick Hill for governor; and Democrat Kim Gillan and Republican Steve Daines for the U.S. House of Representatives.

I inquired about the implications of the federal medical marijuana in Montana and the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is supposed to guarantee a great deal of federalist autonomy on such matters to the 50 states. I didn’t get a response from any of the six.

I also talked to Dan Cox, the libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate from Montana. “It’s a shame Richard Flor died in custody, because he shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” Cox told me. “The federal government doesn’t have any authority to prosecute anyone on medical marijuana charges. When alcohol was outlawed, they needed a constitutional amendment to do it,” the 18th amendment, which established Prohibition nationally. “But they never did that with the war on drugs.”

Steve Kubby

Steve Kubby was one of the key activists behind Proposition 215, California’s pioneering 1996 medical marijuana initiative that won with 62 percent of the vote. It ignited similar laws in other states, including Montana’s  Measure I-148 in 2004.

Kubby ran for California governor in 1998 on the Libertarian Party ticket against then-Attorney General Dan Lungren, currently a Republican representative in Congress. Shortly after, Kubby was arrested on drug charges, but later all charges were dismissed and the arrest was expunged from the record. Denied medical marijuana in prison, he nearly died from the cancer that the medicine, according to his doctors, keeps in remission.

“I can relate to Richard Flor because of the time I spent in prison,” Kubby told me. “Medical marijuana patients are singled out for particularly unpleasant treatment. The problem is that a lot of police believe that medical marijuana is a joke or a fraud. They don’t believe the medical claims of the patient. The propaganda of the federal government is that most people take advantage of the law.”

The federal government, he said, fails to acknowledge studies that show the efficacy of medical marijuana in treating some diseases, such as a recent study by the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego. In the summary of the Sacramento Bee, “State-funded studies – costing $8.7 million – found pot may offer broad benefits for pain from nerve damage from injuries, HIV, strokes and other conditions.”

“This was not a special or unique freak accident,” Kubby said of Flor’s death in federal custody. “I was exposed to it myself. I’ve known many victims who have been mistreated by the police, who think they’re hiding behind the law. It’s terrible. I would like to see an investigation. Although I don’t know the details, I would suspect that taking Flor off his medical marijuana triggered his fatal heart attack.”




  • Maybe it’s the judge who’s the real A here, being a jerk with no compassion. Maybe other states should look at Colorado’s law, maybe that has something to do with why Colorado isn’t having the trouble’s of other states. The law is strict and written into their Constitution. Unfortunately after reading the quotes from Obama and Eric Holder I didn’t find anything unreasonable about their answers. If there was proof that the Montana MMJ law was being broken…. people other than patients receiving…..I know it’s all a terrible tragedy caused by the prohibition of a plant.

  • MikeParent

    In summation, they gave Mr. Flor a death sentence for a victimless crime. Sleep well, judge and the prison personnel who contributed to his wrongful death.

  • Johnny oneye

    Murder ,cut and dry .Sentencing an old person with health problems , SHAME on that judge. DOJ says they dont arrest patients. Well here is the poof they do.
    This is how they treat Vietnam Vets, cannabis prohibition kills and thats the only danger in medical marijuana.
    Feel bad for the family .

  • gonzo0013

    Great article, but one small error which pertains to Montana voters: the measure is IR-124, not 204. Other than that, keep up the good work! Hope you don’t mind if I quote this article in a piece going on Montana NORML’s blog? The silence of our politicians is deafening…

  • It’s IR – 124 NOT 204

    Please edit.

  • ToucheTurtle

    To read about a event like this one is sad because a poor decision has effected an entire family who is convinced that those consequences are someone else’s fault!!!! This attitude is common today in a society where we almost NEVER hold people accountable for decisions that result in undesirable consequences.

    A man died while incarcerated BECAUSE he chose to break a Federal Law: he was arrested, he was charged, he was given the right to counsel, he was given a trial in a court of his peers, and he was sentenced to five years in a Federal facility. And apparently it is the judge’s fault for not showing mercy, it is the arresting officers fault because Montana had a law on the books legalizing the growth of marijuana even though they KNEW it was against Federal law, it was the prison’s fault because they shouldn’t have housed him in their facility, etc., etc. Does ANYONE besides me see something wrong with this picture????

    Does Mr. Flor have any responsibility for how and where he died? For purposely breaking the law, suffering poor health while he was still incarcerated, and then dying in prison instead of at home with his wife and his family? The bottom line is he CHOSE to break the law and was required to pay the price. He made the CHOICE . . . is he RESPONSIBLE for the consequences of his actions?

    “Mr. Flor, along with his wife, Sherry, and their son, Justin, ran a medical marijuana caregiver business out of their home and from a Billings dispensary. Richard Flor was also a co-owner of Montana Cannabis, one of the state’s largest medical marijuana operations and a target in the March 2011 raids by federal agents on marijuana providers across Montana.” Apparently this was a BUSINESS, not just his personal supply of marijuana! Was Mr. Flur engaged in an activity that in effect was a challenge of Federal agents knowing they would be forced to arrest him? . . . talk about sending up a LOT of red flags!!!!

    Folks, the judge in this case is enforcing a FEDERAL law! If you don’t like the law, then change it. Until then all elected officials of our government are REQUIRED to enforce ALL of the laws of our country – it is in the OATH of office they take!!! Until the law is changed, you and I will be held accountable if the law is broken PERIOD!!! We CANNOT selectively decide to enforce some laws and not others . . . petition for change or live with it!!!

    Those are your choices . . . but just know if you chose NOT to follow the law and you cannot get it changed, then YOU, too, can be arrested, charged & fined . . . and/or incarcerated. You do the crime, you do the time!!!

  • ToucheTurtle

    Yes . . . how DARE we enforce the laws of this country!!!!! Only the elite in Washington seem to be “above the law!” Perhaps the fact that our POTHUS made noise about not enforcing various laws of the land, the masses were given the impression they didn’t have to worry about consequences of their actions!!! SHAME ON HIM for not upholding the oath of his office to defend the Constitution and the Rule of Law!!!

    Perhaps there are those who believe there is NO reason to live by the Rule of Law because OUR society needs no limitations and guidelines in order to be harmonious!!!! We should just return to the Old West where you do what you want, and if someone objects they just shoot you!!!!!

  • Toucheturtle. Did you know it was once a felony to disseminate information about birth control? And that REAL people went to jail for sharing that information? Not all laws are just and those who make them have NO reason to back down on their position.
    Politically active, civilly disobedient citizens are the ones who update laws to meet our current mores.
    What COULD have been a spectacular laboratory of democracy, has been CRUSHED by the Feds and the status quo, no matter how scientifically BASELESS the law may be.
    Those who keep beating the “it’s illegal!” drum without caring or understanding how and why their neighbors are being systematically persecuted, prosecuted and jailed, are sad little sheep for whom I can only hope they manage to stay free.

  • WoW.Canabis is Illigal, thats all I need to know.When it becomes Legal, Be my guest. Drugs are a scurge in this country. If you want to break the laws of this Country, try the Netherlands, even they are having diffficulty sinse they implimanted that law. They are in the process of changing their laws,it has lead to addection to harder drugs.It has been said that it damages the brain cells also.

  • The judges follow the Laws of the land. Mr. Flor, wheather U like it or not, broke those laws. Sounds as though he was old enough to make decisions within the Law. Mike i fear U are one of the people that think the laws a made to be broken! Until the law changes, we are under an obligation to obey them.

  • Cocaine, LSD, NO HARM! HALF OF THE KIDS IN THE LATE SIXTYS AND SEVENTY ARE BRAIN DEAD TO THIS DAY, BECAUSE NO ONE THOUGHT IT WOULD HARM THEM. Well unless U are a specalist in that field, U should not expect the laws to change because U are uncomfortable. There are many more legall drugs that the Dr. can perscribe for your comfort.







  • People were selling rat poison in birth control dispensers and calling it LSD. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are brain dead. Fortunately, I learned early on what real LSD was.

  • voting twice

    she is a scientist you stupid sheep,we are professionals,in are respected fields.and rose habib has don nothing but show the science and use her a+ lab to back it up,ignorance is no excuse for a turtle.so please crawl back in your shell and let us heal people,62%+


    can’t even spell let alone think,thats your problem?WORK ON IT!


    Yeah and the cards were stacked against them they could not use reference to the state law that made this legal.so your comment sucks and is wrong.know these people personally way before the law,wish there were more of them and less of you.

  • what about medical malpractice and cruel and unusual punishment.