No jail for lobbyist in medical marijuana charge

Associated Press
View photos
Medical marijuana patient Dawn Peterson-Smith protests Richard Flor's death Thursday Sept. 6, 2012, outside the federal courthouse in Helena, Mont., where Flor was sentenced on drug charges. Richard Flor was a medical marijuana provider who received a five-year sentence in a federal crackdown on large pot operations, but he died late last month while being transferred to a new jail. (AP Photo/Matt Volz)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A lobbyist who became the face of the effort to legalize medical marijuana in Montana and helped draft the initiative approved by voters in 2004 won't see jail time on a federal conviction related to the pot business he co-founded.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen sentenced Daubert Thursday in Missoula to five years' probation. Daubert had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises, a charge that stems from the 2011 raid of a Montana Cannabis, the medical marijuana provider Daubert co-founded in 2009.

One of Daubert's partners, Chris Lindsey, pleaded guilty Thursday to the same charge. That afternoon, the family of a third Montana Cannabis partner, Richard Flor, held a protest in Helena as federal officials spoke out for the first time about his sudden death while in custody.

Daubert's attorney, Peter Lacny, said he believes the judge took his client's history and background into consideration in handing down the sentence. Prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence between 6 1/2 and eight years.

"He was pretty worried going into the sentencing," Lacny said of Daubert. "I think it's going to take a few days to get his head on and then go back to working in various ways to the benefit of Montanans."

Daubert started his lobbying and public relations firm, Daubert Associates, in 1985. He has represented businesses and local governments before the state Legislature and spearheaded initiative advocacy campaigns.

The Missoula resident received the Bureau of Land Management's Public Lands Award in 1997 for his grant writing and fundraising to support preserving the Garnet Ghost Town.

In recent years, he was best known as the director for Patients and Families United, a medical marijuana advocacy group that lobbied to allow severely ill patients to use the drug. He helped draft Initiative 148, which passed in 2004 and made medical marijuana legal in Montana.

Five years later, he started Montana Cannabis with Lindsey, Flor and Chris Williams. A fifth partner left the business soon after its founding.

Lindsey's sentencing was set for Dec. 13. Williams, the only partner to reject any plea agreement, is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 24.

Flor was sentenced in April to five years in prison. He died late last month in the custody of U.S. Marshals while being transferred to a new prison, and his daughter led a small protest Thursday outside the federal courthouse in Helena where he was sentenced.

Kristin Flor said her father was very ill and was denied proper medical treatment while he waited months for officials to decide where he would serve his sentence. He broke his shoulder blade falling from bed in a detention center in Shelby and then had two heart attacks while at a transfer facility in Nevada last Tuesday.

The next day, Kristin Flor made the decision to take her father off life support.

Richard Flor had complained of stomach pains while in Shelby but he never saw a doctor for what was discovered after his death to be cancer, Kristin Flor said.

"My dad died of neglect," she said. "My dad was in the military and he voted and he did everything right. The system should not have failed him. At one point, he should have at least gotten some medical care out of it."

A U.S. Marshals official in Washington said Thursday that Flor died a natural death caused by cancer, with factors that included pulmonary disease, renal insufficiency and high blood pressure. There will be no investigation, spokesman Dave Oney said in an email.

"The USMS has no reason to believe that Mr. Flor's death could have been prevented if he had been placed in a federal medical facility instead of the private prison in Shelby," Oney said.

At its peak, Montana Cannabis provided marijuana for more than 300 registered users from multiple locations across the state, and ran a massive grow operation in the old State Nursery outside Helena.

All that came crashing down in March 2011 when federal agents, backed by state and local law enforcement officials, raided multiple Montana Cannabis locations and the nursery among the 26 search warrants executed in a crackdown on what had become a booming pot industry.

The marijuana providers who ran those businesses, including Daubert, protested that they were following state laws and should not be prosecuted for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. Federal prosecutors said their investigation targeted large-scale drug organizations, and that federal law prevails in any conflict with state laws.

More than two dozen people have been indicted as a result of the raids.