Councilors grill Missoula police chief for supporting medical marijuana repeal

By KEILA SZPALLER of the Missoulian | Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011 6:30 am

Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir came under fire Wednesday in City Council Chambers for lending support to a bill that would repeal the Medical Marijuana Act - a measure embraced by voters in Missoula.

"I reviewed your testimony and I have some concerns about the things that you said," said Councilman Jason Wiener, who quizzed the chief and earlier noted he "could not have disagreed with it (Muir's statements) more vehemently."

At the meeting, Muir defended his position and stood by his testimony. He also reiterated his disapproval of the shops that opened after Montanans approved the 2004 medical marijuana measure and the U.S. attorney general released a 2009 memo noting the prosecution of people using medical marijuana wasn't likely to be a good use of federal resources.

"The idea of dispensaries in the state of Montana has got to be something we wash out of our minds," Muir said Wednesday.

In a Montana Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Friday, the chief lent support to nullifying the 2004 Medical Marijuana Act. According to a partial transcript of his statements in a Montana NORML blog post, Muir told legislators that repeal would be a "very viable option given the speed at which this problem has escalated out of control."

In his statements, he also compared the statewide initiative to the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico: "Think Gulf oil spill. Think again when people say we can't put the genie back in the bottle, that we can't put a cap on this."

The comparison maddened Wiener, who said the spill destroyed habitat in the gulf on a massive scale and cost tens of thousands of livelihoods. He questioned whether the chief truly believes the medicinal use of marijuana could wreak such havoc in Missoula.

"I stand by what I said. It's a matter of record," Muir said.

He pointed to the raids Monday where federal agents descended on medical marijuana shops in 13 Montana cities and seized some $3.6 million from bank accounts: "Folks, we are not talking about medical marijuana anymore. We are talking about ... criminal enterprise."

Wiener shot back a question about how many seized Oxycontin pills it would take to reach $4 million, and he wasn't the only councilor taken aback by the chief's stance.

"I'm just shocked to hear some of his statements," said Councilman Bob Jaffe later in the meeting.

Councilwoman Lyn Hellegaard, though, said councilors shouldn't blame the chief himself because he got a green light from someone else: "Our beef should be with the mayor, who authorized the police chief to go over there."


It was Montana NORML that first sounded the alarm about Muir's testimony backing House Bill 161. In a March 13 blog post, Montana NORML's John Masterson questioned why the chief appeared before legislators as a public official instead of as an individual and wondered if he had traveled to Helena on the taxpayer dime.

It turned out Muir indeed was on the clock, but with the blessing of Mayor John Engen. Engen later said it would have been more appropriate to have the chief testify as an informational witness.

Muir has said he supported the repeal bill not as the only option but as the only bill left on the table. He said he has problems with a regulatory bill proposed by Rep. Diane Sands, a Missoula Democrat.

To make the broad Missoula support for medical marijuana clear in Helena, Councilman Wiener offered up a resolution opposing HB161 and "removing any doubt about the city's stance."

The draft states the Missoula City Council "opposes HB161 and any attempts to overturn I-148 or to disallow the compassionate allowance for the medical use of marijuana;" and "requests the Mayor direct the City's lobbyist to oppose any efforts to repeal the citizen initiative;" and "requests the Mayor and Administrative Leadership Team cease the advocacy of City of Missoula employees in their official capacity for repeal of I-148, through HB 161 or any other vehicle."

The council will take up the resolution Monday at its regular meeting. HB161 hadn't reached the Senate floor at press time, but a vote could come anytime, so council president Ed Childers also was drafting a letter from willing councilors to legislators.

Councilwoman Pam Walzer, who said she was disappointed the Montana Legislature had yet to embrace a regulation instead of repeal bill, said a resolution was important to drive home the point.

"We're not just sending a letter. We're serious," Walzer said.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, or on