New group raising money for lawyer to challenge medical marijuana bill in Montana

HELENA — The new Montana Cannabis Industry Association is raising money to hire a top Montana lawyer, James Goetz of Bozeman, to file a lawsuit challenging the medical marijuana bill soon to become law without Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s signature.

Goetz is a prominent attorney who has won cases before both the U.S. and Montana supreme courts. In the early 1980s, he was the lead attorney on cases in the early 1980s that established the rights of recreationists to have access to Montana’s streams. In 1989, he was the lead lawyer in the lawsuit that overturned Montana’s school funding law.

“I’ve not been hired as of yet,” Goetz said Thursday. “I’ve been contacted and am looking at the issues. It’s obvious to me that the law’s a real mess.”

The Missoula-based association was touting the future hiring of Goetz on its website as it seeks donations.

“He’s a ‘big gun,’ ” the website said. “When Montanans see his name, they’ll know we are serious and we are hiring the best. MCIA talked to more than a dozen lawyers, and Goetz was the name, over and over. Even attorneys who wanted the job themselves said Goetz was the man.”

The association said hiring the best attorney comes with a price, and it must raise $50,000 by Friday morning.

“On behalf of caregivers and patients statewide, Goetz will deploy legal actions intended to first delay the new law’s implementation and then strike it down in its entirety,” the website said. “This initial delay action will buy us time to collect signatures for the referendum to keep the law from being implemented. But we need your financial help immediately to make this happen.”

Goetz said the $50,000 would be his retainer for taking on the case.

The association said it’s critical that those involved with medical marijuana work together and discouraged others from filing independent lawsuits.

“We have strategy,” it said. “We need an attorney that Montana judges know and respect so the court system understands that we are a group of professionals. And that we’re not going away.”

Schweitzer has said he will hold his nose and let the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 423, become law without his signature.

Supporters of SB423 said it is intended to impose needed restrictions on Montana’s voter-passed 2004 law legalizing the use of medical marijuana for medical purposes. Another goal was to make it harder for people to qualify for medical marijuana cards.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, said everyone is entitled to an attorney.

“Montana voters should be concerned about any group that is selling a schedule-one controlled substance that can raise $50,000 in less than a week,” he said, referring to federal law. “I don’t believe Montana voters wanted to have that kind of activity in the state of Montana.

“It should be very obvious that this is no longer about the medicine or the therapy. This is about the money for these people.”

He said the group’s name illustrates what the problem is.

“They regard themselves as an industry,” the senator said. “I don’t think the voters ever intended to establish an industry.”

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association recently formed as a nonprofit trade association. It said it is dedicated to “promoting professionalism, credibility, equality and vitality in the cannabis industry so as to benefit its members and the citizens of Montana.”

It said it wants to serve as the voice of its members and proactively influence the legislative and regulatory process. It seeks to provide industry information and education to its members and the public. It wants to further “the ethical and professional standards” of it members and maintain the “positive image of our industries and association.”

Some of its board of directors are people who testified at the Legislature on behalf of elements of the medical marijuana industry or who are otherwise involved in the business.

They include the group’s president, Nathan Pierce, who represented Montanans for Responsible Legislation; John Masterson of Montana NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws); Kate Cholewa of the Alliance of Cannabis Science; Chris Lindsey, a medical marijuana attorney out of Missoula and Polson; and some caregivers.

The group’s website is www.mtcia.org.

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