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Missoula Police Chief's Testimony on Marijuana Repeal Criticized

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A Montana NORML blogpost about testimony from Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir in Helena has raised questions about the city of Missoula's public stance on medical marijuana.

In a hearing in the Capitol last week, Muir signed on as a proponent of House Bill 161, which would repeal the state's Medical Marijuana Act. It's a measure 73 percent of Missoula County voters approved in 2004.

"Which leads me to ask, as an employee of the city of Missoula, was Chief Muir acting in his capacity as a representative of the city?" asked John Masterson, in a Montana NORML blogpost dated March 13. "Was his presence, and his message, endorsed by City Council? ... It's my assumption that he was expressing his personal views, on his own dime. But he should have made that clear in the hearing."

In fact, Muir testified as a public official, and later before the Missoula City Council, Masterson acknowledged "there was nothing improper or certainly illegal" with the actions of the chief. But the broad support in Missoula for the Medical Marijuana Act wasn't represented in an official capacity at the hearing, either, he said.

"The act of testifying in favor of repeal in uniform representing the Missoula Police Department seems to represent, or could be seen as representing, the sentiment of the city," said Masterson on Tuesday. "And some definition of the city is the people of Missoula, and I think that the people of Missoula are in no way in favor of medical marijuana repeal."

Neither is Mayor John Engen. On Tuesday, Engen said it may have been more appropriate for the city to send Muir to Helena as an informational witness and not as a proponent of repeal. The city's ostensible support for repeal "belongs in big quotation marks," Engen said.

"I think in hindsight, I probably would have described our position in a different way," he said. "But we didn't, so we are where we are, and our testimony I think reflects concern but not advocacy for repeal."

Engen himself believes some people legitimately need marijuana to ease pain and suffering, but regulations are needed because others are exploiting the law. In this case, he said it might have been better to not take an official stance on the repeal bill.

"We're going to end up in these sticky wickets occasionally where we have a responsibility to stand up and provide some information, and if we had it to do over, would we say we are neutral ... ?" Engen said. "Maybe that would have been our approach."

In its post, Montana NORML included parts of Muir's testimony on its website: "Repeal is just one option. Certainly a very viable option given the speed at which this problem has escalated out of control. I will tell you that I don't believe that putting this to a vote of the citizens in a few years is a good idea because it would let this problem continue to grow at too fast of a rate."

In an interview, Muir said he didn't testify exclusively for repeal: "I didn't come out and say, 'This is the only choice that you have.' In fact, quite the opposite. We do support repeal because at this point, it's the only thing that's on the table."

He said it's necessary in part because people who don't need marijuana as medicine have easier access to it, use goes up, and with it "the opportunity for addiction." He pointed to a study saying teens who use pot are two or three times more likely to develop mental health issues - and he said Montana doesn't have enough money for mental health as it is.

Many people arguably are recreational users, and the chief said that's a concern: "If you use it recreationally long enough, you will develop some form of addiction."

NORML's Masterson, who said he has great respect for the chief, noted 9 percent of people who regularly smoke marijuana develop an addiction problem - compared with 15 percent of people who drink.

Missoula's official positions on legislation come in various forms. The city again hired a lobbyist, who advocates for the position of the mayor and the administration, in some cases after department heads review bills.

The Missoula City Council, whose Committee of the Whole has been meeting weekly for legislative updates, also takes positions on certain bills, sometimes in the form of a resolution. Other times, a council member will ask the committee to vote in favor or against a bill, and council president Ed Childers said he alerts the appropriate committee in Helena with a letter.

House Bill 161 wasn't a piece of legislation councilors had broached in discussion, Childers said. And lobbyist John MacDonald said he didn't testify in favor or against it.

"Nor was I asked to," wrote MacDonald in an e-mail. "I think I initially had this on my list to 'watch,' but there were a ton of marijuana bills starting out, and I don't recall even sitting in on any of the discussions or committee meetings on this one."

"Missoula In Session," at missoulainsession.com, tracks the city's position on bills and notes which department is following what legislation. On House Bill 161, the city's position is listed as in "support."

Childers said the website is intended to be informational and not official. HB161 is expected to be among the discussion items when the council's Committee of the Whole meets at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers, 140 W. Pine St.

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: missoulian.com
Author: Keila Szpaller
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: missoulian.com
Website: Missoula police chief's testimony on marijuana repeal criticized
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