Thursday, April 28, 2011

Montana: Life in Prison for Marijuana?

While many states are looking to put fewer non-violent offenders behind bars--some states continue to have draconian laws on the books. In Montana, an offender arrested for selling marijuana could receive a life sentence. Although law enforcement officials say the law would not be used it is on the books.

“Nobody is ever going to ask for life in prison, ever,” Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul, told the Missoulian. “It’s not as if any county attorney’s office in the state has a vendetta against small-time weed use.”

A review by the state Public Defender’s Office bore out those statements. Public defenders handled 76 cases statewide between January 2010 and January 2011 involving distribution of dangerous drugs, a category that includes narcotics, opiates, heroin and cocaine. Five of those cases involved small amounts of marijuana and two of the five were in Missoula County. Probationary sentences are typical, according to the Public Defender’s Office, reported the Missoulian.

Still, “I don’t see anything in statutes themselves that would preclude them from applying (the stricter penalty) when they see fit,” Chris Lindsey, a Missoula attorney who often represents people in medical marijuana cases told the Missoulian.

While there’s plenty of gray regarding the penalty, the law regarding the offense is black and white. Jurors could find an accused guilty if she held just 3 grams of marijuana, about a 10th of an ounce. Any sentence could follow--even life in prison.

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