A medical cannabis advocate argues that a Utah Gun Exchange co-owner facing a drug charge deserves leniency. Here’s why.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Bryan Melchior, Utah Gun Exchange, talks about the new video platform the group will be launching for gun enthusiasts, Friday, March 23, 2018.

A prominent advocate in the state’s medical cannabis movement is urging the criminal justice system to consider whether the Utah Gun Exchange co-owner charged last week with intent to distribute the drug was using it as medicine.

During a November search of Bryan Alan Melchior’s Sandy home, police say, officers found more than a pound of marijuana, THC products, $36,247 in cash and nearly 30 guns. While police had received complaints that Melchior — known for his counterprotests against Parkland, Fla., high school students — was allegedly selling drugs from his home, DJ Schanz with the Utah Patients Coalition has a different explanation.

In speaking with the firearms dealer, Schanz said he’s learned that Melchior is a medical cannabis patient and a prepper.

“Based on conversations we’ve had with Bryan, he’s very concerned about emergency preparedness, and part of being prepared for emergencies is having a supply of food and medicine,” Schanz said.

The coalition reached out to Melchior after learning of the charges against him and has consulted with him on finding legal representation.

“We’re not attorneys but we would like to see obviously the best outcome for him considering that he is using cannabis for medicinal purposes,” Schanz said.

Schanz said Melchior did not want to comment on his charges, and he has not returned phone calls from The Salt Lake Tribune, including on Tuesday.

Utah Patients Coalition is the group that led the effort to put Proposition 2, the medical cannabis initiative, on the ballot in November. Now that the measure has passed — and been replaced with a medical cannabis proposal preferred by the Legislature and governor — the group has shifted gears to focus on the program’s implementation.

It will probably be a couple of years before medical marijuana is available in Utah through official channels, such as licensed cannabis pharmacies. However, the new marijuana legislation — which took effect in early December — does offer interim legal protections for qualifying patients who are using the substance in accordance with the law.

The bill’s protections only apply to certain patients who are found with marijuana in a medicinal form and with less than 113 grams, according to Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. Authorities alleged Melchior was in possession of more than a pound of marijuana, which translates into more than 450 grams.

Gill said he’s heard that medical cannabis use might be part of the case and his office is looking into this aspect of the situation. The prosecutor, who has been a strong proponent of opening access to medical cannabis, said his office has committed to being sensitive to patients’ circumstances.

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill talks with Willow Hennessy and her adopted brother Hestevan before a news conference held by TRUCE, a group of concerned patients and caregivers advocating for safe legal access to medical cannabis in Utah, at the state Capitol on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. Hestevan suffers from seizures that are controlled by medicines, but he also suffers from chronic pain that medicine doesn't help.

“But keep in mind, the allegation here is possession with intent to distribute, and under the new bill … your medical needs do not absolve you if you’re engaging in distribution,” Gill said.

Recreational use is also still prohibited, Gill noted.

Sandy police in June 2018 received a report from someone suspicious that Melchior was selling drugs form his home, and two similar complaints came in over the following months, according to a search warrant.

Authorities investigated the complaints by sifting through Melchior’s trash and found tubes that field tested positive for marijuana and containers labeled with marijuana strain names, the warrant stated.

They searched Melchior’s home in November and found multiple pipes and other paraphernalia, concentrated marijuana extracts, THC edibles and marijuana in plant form, according to the search warrant. They also found cash and firearms, the documents stated.

However, Schanz said in passing Prop 2, Utahns made clear that they no longer wanted to treat medical cannabis patients as criminals. This sentiment should influence the way these types of cases play out in the courts, he added.

“The point we’re trying to make with this case, specifically, is there are many intricacies with the new law, and as we’re rolling this out with the medical cannabis program, I think everyone needs to be somewhat flexible with how we treat these medical cannabis patients,” he said.

In addition to the drug charge, Melchior faces five counts of illegally possessing guns while he was a restricted person barred from having them. Melchior isn’t a felon, a common reason people are restricted from possessing guns, but people often face the charge when police find firearms and marijuana together, Gill said.

Utah Gun Exchange reportedly posted a statement on its Facebook page addressing the allegations against Melchior. The statement didn’t appear on the page Tuesday, but ABC4 republished the message, in which the Utah Gun Exchange stressed that Melchior and not the company had been charged with crimes.

“UGE is currently reviewing these allegations and charges internally to determine the most appropriate course for the organization moving forward to ensure it accomplishes its mission,” the company statement read, as reported by ABC4. “Once we have completed our review and selected the most appropriate action, we will release more information on our selected course.”

Melchior, 46, is a proponent of Second Amendment rights who drew attention last year for waging a counterprotest to students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. As the students advocated for gun control across the country, Melchior and his supporters trailed them in a military-style vehicle. The Utah Gun Exchange also led a counterdemonstration to a student-led march to the state Capitol last March.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Bryan Melchior and Sam Robinson, owners of Utah Gun Exchange, Friday, March 23, 2018.