Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jury rules for marijuana reform advocate

Davidson awarded $11,000 from Marijuana Policy Project

Express Staff Writer

Marijuana legal reformer Ryan Davidson testifies last week at a trial in Blaine County 5th District Court, where he was alleging breach of contract against the national Marijuana Policy Project. A jury ruled in Davidsonís favor Friday afternoon and awarded him $11,000. At left is Davidsonís attorney, Charles Johnson. Photo by David N. Seelig

A Blaine County jury ruled Friday afternoon that the national Marijuana Policy Project breached a contract when it pulled the plug in 2004 on a grant for pot law reformer Ryan Davidson.

The jury, however, awarded Davidson only $11,000 of the $44,000 in grant balance that he was seeking.

"Obviously, I was hoping for the full amount, but I was happy that the jury decided there was breach of contract by MPP," Davidson said.

Davidson filed his lawsuit against the organization in 2008. Marijuana Policy Project initially funded his campaign in 2004 for placing marijuana reform initiatives on ballots for city elections in Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley. The organization canceled Davidson's $60,000 grant when all three cities rejected his initiative petitions.

Davidson continued his pro-marijuana campaign anyway and in 2006 won a victory over the city of Sun Valley when the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that cities do not have the right to determine the constitutionality of proposed initiatives. Davidson also succeeded in having marijuana reform initiatives approved in Hailey in 2007 and 2008, though the measures were ruled illegal for the most part in 2009.

The trial of Davidson's lawsuit started Wednesday in Blaine County 5th District Court. Closing arguments were heard Friday morning.

"Ryan Davidson had success, so he is entitled to payment under the grant," said Davidson's attorney, Charles Johnson. "Really, he should be a hero of MPP, shouldn't he? They owe him a debt of gratitude. He paved the way for marijuana initiative drives in Idaho."

Marijuana Policy Project's attorney, Aaron Thompson, said Davidson failed to meet milestones in the campaign as required by the organization.

"They wanted to get it on the ballot in 2004," Thompson said. "That's what MPP contracted with Mr. Davidson to do. Did he accomplish that? No."

The eight-women, four-man jury deliberated for about three hours before reaching a decision.

Davidson said he feels vindicated by the verdict.

"The jury didn't like what MPP did to us," he said. "They gave me a little bit. It's time to move on. It kind of wraps up this five-year thing."

Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Rob Kampia, who testified at the trial, could not be reached for comment.

Hailey resident Robert Blakeley, who assisted Davidson with the Wood River Valley marijuana campaign, called the jury's ruling a "moral victory."

"They'd come to the conclusion fairly early in the trial that something was amiss," Blakeley said. "Honestly, what MPP did was kind of underhanded. I hope it sends them the message that they can't just pull the rug out from anyone."

Despite the victory, Blakeley said he doubts he'll get any of the money.

"I wasn't a party to the lawsuit, but in my mind, based on the time and money I put into it, yeah, I think I should get something" he said. "But I don't know if Ryan's going to see it that way."

Blakeley said there's little likelihood that he and Davidson will start any more marijuana reform initiative drives in Blaine County.

"What we did here could be used to help with any other marijuana initiatives," he said. "We may do a statewide initiative, but we need funding."

But Davidson said he's not so sure his work is finished in Blaine County.

"Never say never," he said.

Terry Smith:

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