When you think of the people we’re trying to help by legalizing medical cannabis in this state, think of the cancer patient trying to fight through rounds of chemotherapy.
Think of the cerebral palsy patient for whom medical marijuana can help fend off seizures. Think of the multiple sclerosis patient who uses it to walk and function.
Unfortunately, those patients risk having their plights obscured by what could be the first, highly public test of Utah’s new medical cannabis law involving Bryan Melchior.
He’s the owner of the Utah Gun Exchange and is now facing charges of intent to distribute marijuana and a handful of weapons violations after police searched his home in November and found a pound of marijuana, other THC products and some 30 firearms.
DJ Schanz, the campaign director for the Utah Patients Coalition, made the case to my colleague Bethany Rodgers that Melchior is a medical patient with an undisclosed condition who deserves leniency under Utah’s recently enacted medical marijuana law. And the coalition is helping Melchior find a lawyer.
For his part, Melchior was already a lightning rod for staging high-profile pro-gun demonstrations after the slaughter of students at a Parkland, Fla., high school and also for providing a platform where people can buy sniper rifles and bump stocks and semi-automatic rifles without a background check.
But let’s set all of that aside for right now. The theatrics shouldn’t color how we approach this case.
Advocates fought for years to put a compassionate face on the movement, the face of people suffering immense, debilitating pain who only wanted an opportunity for relief. It was those stories, I believe, that created a tidal shift in this state on the issue of medical marijuana, to the point that Utah voters became an irresistible force that overwhelmed the nearly immovable Legislature.
These were patients, not criminals. That was the refrain over and over.
But what if the patient IS a criminal.
Let’s assume for the moment that Melchior was not dealing marijuana and this was a personal stash used to treat a legitimate medical condition. It’s a presumption he is entitled to until proven guilty.
What happens to the next person who is busted in similar circumstances? What if three neighbors had called police saying they suspected this person was selling marijuana, and let’s say police ultimately found a pound of weed, a bunch of concentrated marijuana products, edibles, pipes, empty containers, other paraphernalia and 30 guns.
Do we let it slide because a doctor says he has a medical condition?
In order to avoid that exact scenario, there were careful limits included in the medical cannabis law passed by the Legislature.
The law on the books says a legitimate patient can have up to a quarter pound of cannabis in medicinal form — in the case of raw marijuana, it has to be in small blister packs. Possession of more than a half pound is a class B misdemeanor. There is no legal protection for anyone who has more than that.
There will be times as this law is rolled out where patients make honest mistakes where they fail to comply with the intricacies of a convoluted law — marijuana that isn’t in a blister pack or an edible that wasn’t in a cube shape, for example.
This isn’t a minor “oopsie” where prosecutors should be inclined to look the other way.
To suggest Melchior be entitled to some deference or leniency feeds into the type of narrative the sky-is-falling, reefer-madness anti-medical cannabis crowd was presenting — that the law is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that some people will use as an excuse to use weed under the guise of a medical necessity.
In Schanz’s defense, he was responding to a question from a reporter. His group hasn’t gone out to crusade for Melchior or to make him the Rosa Parks of Utah’s medical cannabis movement, nor should they.
Schanz worked hard to get the bill passed and he was one of the people at the table when the replacement bill was negotiated, along with Connor Boyack, the president of the Libertas Institute, who happens to be the founder of the Utah Gun Exchange. (He sold it to the man who sold it to Melchior).
There will be other cases in which they will need their credibility and political capital to advocate for patients.
As for Melchior, he will have his day in court, and hopefully he takes the opportunity to prove his innocence. Because if he tries to shield himself behind the medical cannabis law it does a disservice to those who worked to pass the legislation and more so to the patients who should be the real face of medical cannabis in Utah.