HELENA — A new documentary, “The Code of the West,” does an outstanding job of capturing the tense debates at the 2011 Legislature — and really across Montana — about what to do about medical marijuana and the burgeoning industry it created here.
Emmy-nominated director Rebecca Richman Cohen’s documentary is being screened in some cities around the state this month. It’s a film that’s definitely worth seeing as Montanans continue to debate the issue.
When legislators gathered in January 2011, many were determined to bring under control or eliminate the medical marijuana industry that had sprung up here. Others wanted to tighten the regulations on the industry. The number of people with medical marijuana cards here had skyrocketed from about 1,500 in December 2008 to more than 27,000 two years later.
While clearly more sympathetic to the medical marijuana advocates and industry, “Code of the West” devotes plenty of air time to interviewing those who fought to repeal the 2004 ballot measure that legalized the use of medical marijuana.
One of the leading characters in the film is Tom Daubert of Helena, an author of the 2004 ballot measure, a prominent lobbyist for medical marijuana and the former managing partner of a large pot-growing operation in a former nursery.
Another is Cherrie Brady, a Billings woman who helped form Safe Communities Safe Kids. Concerned about the availability of pot in high schools and middle schools, Brady and her group wanted to stop the medical marijuana industry in its tracks by repealing the law.
Among the other compelling people in the film is Lori Burnam of Missoula, who is suffering from emphysema and advanced cancer. She prefers the relief she gets from medical marijuana through a vaporizer more than powerful prescription drugs that give her “horrible dreams.”
Strangely absent from the film was Jason Christ of Missoula. Christ single-handedly is probably more responsible than anyone for the growth in the number of medical marijuana cardholders here through his “cannabis caravans” that got cards for people across Montana.
Cohen told Sally Mauk of Montana Public Radio that while she had interviewed Christ, she didn’t include him because he wasn’t part of the legislative debates.
This film does a vivid job showing the tension and drama in hearings and debates as the Legislature passes the repeal bill, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer at a branding ceremony outside the Capitol.
The cinematography is stunning, capturing Montana vistas around the state as well as emotion-packed scenes in the Capitol.
There also is video of federal government’s controversial raid of the Helena nursery west of town in March 2011, one of more than two dozen raids across the state that day.
In the end, the Legislature in the closing days passed a bill to make it much harder for people to legally obtain medical marijuana, and Schweitzer let it become law without his signature. It’s been challenged in court and goes before the Montana Supreme Court on May 30. Voters also will have a chance in November to vote on a referendum to retain or reject the law.
It is a continuing and unresolved saga.
The film shows a sad and tormented Daubert after the legislative session concluded as he awaits being indicted.
“My heart suddenly is racing,” he says. “I feel very disoriented and panicky. I wasn’t planning on being a martyr or ending my life in prison.”
He since has been indicted by the U.S. attorney’s office. Daubert entered a guilty plea and awaits sentencing in September after paying a $50,000 fine.