Friday, September 18, 2009

Hailey hosts pot-reform-funding showdown

Marijuana advocate suing national pro-pot organization


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Ryan Davidson, who campaigned for five years in the Wood River Valley for marijuana legal reform, takes a quick lunch break during a trial Wednesday in Blaine County 5th District Court. Photo by David N. Seelig

The executive director of a national pro-marijuana organization claims that pot reformist Ryan Davidson's inability to get marijuana initiatives on ballots in Blaine County in 2004 was a "catastrophic failure of the whole campaign."

Rob Kampia, head of the Washington, D.C.,-based Marijuana Policy Project, testified in court Thursday that Davidson's failure was a major reason the organization revoked funding for his pro-marijuana campaign in the Wood River Valley.

"Almost everything in the campaign was going poorly," Kampia said in Blaine County 5th District Court, the setting for a jury trial this week over Davidson's claim that the organization breached a contract when it revoked his $60,000 grant in September 2004.

Davidson is seeking $44,000 in grant balance plus interest, attorney fees and unspecified "incidental and consequential damages."

The trial started Wednesday, testimony was concluded Thursday and closing arguments are set for today.

Davidson, who now lives in Garden City, started a marijuana reform campaign in the county in 2004 and submitted petitions for ballot initiatives at that time to the cities of Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley. All three cities rejected Davidson's petitions and declined to put them on ballots for the November 2004 elections.

Davidson continued working on the campaign even after the grant was withdrawn. In 2006, he won a victory over the city of Sun Valley before the Idaho Supreme Court, which ruled that the city did not have the authority to determine the constitutionality of proposed ballot initiatives.

The agreement between Davidson and the national organization specified pro-marijuana activities Davidson was to undertake in the Wood River Valley from August 2004 through March 2005.

Presiding Judge John K. Butler ruled prior to the trial that evidence of activities undertaken by Davidson after March 2005 was not admissible to the jury. Thus, Davidson was not allowed to testify about successful ballot initiatives in Hailey in 2007 and 2008.

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In opening remarks, Marijuana Policy Project attorney Aaron Thompson alleged that Davidson misled the organization when he applied for his grant and underestimated resistance from local government to marijuana reform.

"This case is about whether or not Mr. Davidson did what he said he'd do," Thompson said. "I think that the evidence will show that he did not do what he said he'd do."

Davidson's attorney, Charles Johnson, said the organization's revocation of the grant was in "bad faith and unreasonable."

Davidson testified that his campaign in Blaine County was the beginning of a statewide effort ultimately intended to lead to state legislative action for reform of marijuana laws.

"I chose Blaine County because it was probably the most progressive county in Idaho," Davidson said. "I thought that this community would be an easier place to pass an initiative."

Davidson said he thought it would be easier than it turned out to be to overcome legal obstacles imposed by city officials.

"It was my position that they were in gross violation of the law," he said. "I fully expected that if I brought this to the attention of reasonable people they would recognize their mistake."

Hailey resident Robert Blakeley, who assisted Davidson with the campaign, testified that he relocated to the Wood River Valley along with Davidson after the grant was awarded by the Marijuana Policy Project. He said withdrawal of the grant put the men in a financial bind.

"It's kind of like getting a job in some faraway place and waking up and finding your employer has left town," Blakeley said. "They wanted us to just walk away and hitchhike out of town as if nothing had happened."

Blakeley said he and Davidson kept working on the campaign because they were committed and were hopeful for eventual funding.

"We were forever hopeful that MPP would realize the error of their ways," he said. "We accomplished everything that was in the agreement and then some. I think we did a stellar job. I thought MPP would be happy with what we did. But obviously they were not."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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