Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery advocated a reason based on religion for keeping cannabis illegal and called a veteran an "enemy" at a recent debate.
You can watch the entire 90-minute, March 23 debate between Montgomery and lawyer Marc Victor and judge for yourself who won.
Montgomery lost the debate at least in part by losing his cool when talking to U.S. Navy veteran Don Ream and others during the Q&A portion of event. Since last Monday's show, Montgomery's canceled one other upcoming debate on the issue.
The "enemy" quote, (see video at about 1:02), which has been grist for social media over the past few days, wasn't even the most interesting part of the debate from a political point of view -- it was how Montgomery's argument against marijuana prohibition proved grounded in his own religious views.
The debate, hosted by Tempe Republican Women, came as both sides in the legalization question prepare for a long slog to the November 2016 ballot.
As of last week, two groups had filed paperwork with the state in an attempt to legalize marijuana with citizens' initiatives; it's unclear whether the groups will merge, but each would need to collect at least 200,000 signatures to make it on the ballot. Last month, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy launched its own campaign in a long-term strategy to try to defeat the planned measure.
At the start of the video, perhaps realizing his religious views should not actually guide his work as the county's top prosecutor, Montgomery told the audience of Republican women and pro-cannabis advocates that he would not speak as the elected county attorney. Instead, he explained, he'd speak as a "fellow American" who has a political philosophy grounded in the "original founding documents."
Discussions of federal overreach and infringement on states' rights have "gone too far in the other direction, elevating the individual to a point of worship of 'me-ism' and 'whatever I want to do, I should be allowed to do,'" Montgomery claimed.
Americans were not "created for a world in which we do anything in which we want to do," he said. Doing that makes us "slave to our passions."
Compare Montgomery's teachings to that in the article "The Truth Will Make You Free" by Jim Blackburn on www.catholic.com: "Contradicting authentic Christian teaching by following our own sinful desires leads to failure and condemnation. Such behavior makes us slaves to our passions, which is an offense against true freedom."
Montgomery said the debate about marijuana legalization reminds him of a story about a garden and an apple "that started with a promise that you could eat this apple and nothing bad will occur."
Victor then quipped that none of his stories involve "talking snakes." His argument boils down to the idea that people should be allowed to put what they want in their own bodies, up until the point that their actions affect someone else.
If cannabis were legalized, Victor acknowledged, organized-crime organizations would still exist -- they just won't deal in marijuana any longer. Victor gets laughs as he spoke of the "scary alcohol cartels" that include Budweiser and Miller.
"Your philosophies are usually only good when you're drinking a beer," Montgomery tells him, drawing a few laughs.
"True freedom helps you become a better human being," according to Montgomery. "Being a better pothead is not being a better human being."
Explaining his theories on "true freedom," Montgomery maintained that the Founding Fathers wanted to build a United States that wasn't an "amorphous free country drifting about," but was geared toward establishing the type of freedom the Creator wants. He preaches that the country's founders wanted the "freedom to then become the creatures that God created us to be."
Substance users are "trading one form of slavery" for another -- and that includes users of alcohol and tobacco, he said. Such people are a "drag on this country" and their communities. The government's role is to bring out "true happiness" as Montgomery believes the founders saw it.
Yet the Founding Fathers didn't attempt to restrict alcohol or any other substance used recreationally by Americans. As Victor put it: "Where is the [Constitutional] Amendment for the federal government to run a big, giant, $69-billion-annual cost, marijuana drug war?"
The debate grows heated when audience members line up at a mic. Most are marijuana-aficionados and patients -- and they have good questions that Montgomery struggles to answer.
The first audience speaker, former Democratic Congressional candidate Mikel Weisser, asked Montgomery how he could justify using the ancient Greeks' ideas of freedom to help make his point, when those same Greeks were into "pederasty" and other activities now considered harmful. Montgomery dismissed him rudely: "You've had your 15 minutes of fame."
The next man, Don Ream, didn't actually have a question -- he invited Montgomery to sit down with him at the clinic where he works and talk to patients. The white-haired senior citizen, wearing his Arizona medical-cannabis card around his neck on a lanyard, told Montgomery he's a Vietnam veteran and medicinal-marijuana patient who found Montgomery's "pothead" comment offensive.
People called vets like him "baby killers" when they got home from Vietnam, he said, while others called him a hero. The "truth of war" is that veterans are both, Ream opined. He added that he feels sorry for Montgomery because he's "been deceived" -- then gives the county attorney a crisp salute.
Montgomery appeared to be somewhat incensed by the display, but points out that he was making a distinction between medical and recreational use of marijuana.
"I'm a recreational user, too," the man responded.
"Well, then you're violating the law, and I have no respect for you," Montgomery fumed. "And I have no respect for someone who would try to claim that you served this country and took an oath to uphold the constitution and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic, because you're an enemy."
The crowd erupted in a round of boos. Ream stalked off angrily.
No doubt, some people just wanted to gripe to Montgomery, or make soliloquies. But Montgomery didhn't help matters, telling one commenter his question was "asinine," "ridiculous" and "ignorant."
Another good question comes up: What problem did the 1937 national prohibition of marijuana solve?
"Hell if I know," Montgomery answered.
Maybe Montgomery really is that ignorant. More likely, he knows the answer would shock people: History shows that marijuana was made illegal in large part to control the nonexistent "problem" of musicians, blacks, and Hispanics using it, and because of a nonexistent wave of violent crime associated with it.
We chatted briefly with Montgomery last week about calling the veteran an "enemy" and why he canceled an upcoming debate on legalization he'd been scheduled to attend. (We didn't bother asking him about his viewpoints on pot, not wanting to re-debate the debate.)
"Is [Ream] an enemy like ISIS or Al Qaeda? Of course not. But if he or any other vet is going to use their status as a veteran to encourage people to break the law, then that does make them an enemy of our constitution and our laws and that is a sad commentary on where we are at," he wrote in an e-mail.
Ream, who works for White Mountain Health Health Center, admitted Montgomery's comments made him angry. He didn't mean to provoke the official, he told us: "I really feel sorry for him, to be so close-minded."
Montgomery's not looking to repeat the experience.
"No more free-for-all forums for drug pushers," the county attorney wrote on his Facebook page last week.
Montgomery's not happy with Kathy Inman, the leader of a pro-cannabis group who arranged the a debate planned for Monday night, because, he claimed, she spread "false information" about his brief squabble with the veteran and also because she's been "deceptive in pushing her point of view."
This may be part of the reason Montgomery won't do another cannabis debate. Another reason may be that he hates losing.
We'll close with this notice from the Tempe Republican Women's website about its annual cocktail party, which ironically followed the group's announcement of the March 23 debate:
Correction: There was only one other upcoming debate planned. Montgomery is apparently still planning to speak at future presentations of "The MATFORCE Anti-Legalization Debate Tour."
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.
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