Born 1944 • Died August 30, 2012

By Tom Daubert

Richard Giles Flor, of Miles City, Montana, a Vietnam vet and loving husband and father, became a martyr to the cause of cannabis patients’ rights Aug. 30, 2012 at the age of 68. In the eyes of his friends and colleagues, he was functionally murdered by the federal government’s draconian enforcement of prohibition.

Flor died in federal custody, while in the process of being transferred to the federal medical facility to which a judge had sentenced him some six months earlier. He had languished instead in a private state prison, receiving none of the vital healthcare treatment he needed. The same judge had refused to release him temporarily, finding that the situation, while “regrettable,” didn’t legally justify compassion.

Flor had produced quality medical marijuana for suffering patients for more than six years under the watchful and evidently approving eye of state and local law enforcement officials. That came to an abrupt end when his home was among 26 Montana locations the DEA raided in mid-March 2011.

Flor participated actively in the state’s 2004 ballot issue campaign to legalize medical marijuana, providing his home as a location for filming patient interviews that were used in successful television and radio advertisements. Once the law went into effect, Flor became the state’s first registered caregiver, and served patients who came to revere him not only for his friendship, kindness and compassion, but for the quality of the medicine he grew. Over the years, as the number of patients he served increase, Flor’s outdoor garden came to consume most of his backyard.

His activities were well-known in the community of Miles City, a small ranching and railroad town of only 8,500. He had been born and raised there, lived most of his life there, and a deputy sheriff lived across the alley from his garden. Several times over the years the Eastern Montana Drug Task Force had visited to count his plants and check his paperwork, always finding his operation acceptable under the law.

In April 2009, Flor became a founding partner in Montana Cannabis, which grew to serve hundreds of patients statewide and actively sought to model how the law’s provisions could be fulfilled as well as more effectively regulated. Flor ran the eastern Montana portion of the operation with the help of his wife, Sherry, and son, Justin. The company also had offices in Billings and Missoula, and was headquartered in a 10,000- square-foot greenhouse outside Helena, the state’s capital. The greenhouse regularly hosted tours for community leaders, state legislators and law enforcement officials, all of whom approved.

Initially, the Flors were charged with multiple federal drug offenses, including conspiracy, trafficking, money-laundering and weapons, carrying combined mandatory minimum penalties of many decades. Ultimately, they pled guilty to “operating a premises,” which carries no mandatory sentence other than probation. Hoping for a merciful sentence of home arrest or less, Flor was instead sentenced to spend five years in a federal medical facility, given his serious ailments, which included diabetes and a heart condition. His son Justin was sentenced to five years in a federal prison and wife Sherry to two years.

Flor’s already poor health began declining precipitously the moment he was arrested. A few months later, minor dementia began, which the government later found compromised his ability to participate in his own defense. State prison provided none of the healthcare he needed. When he fell and broke ribs and other bones, he pled for relief but only received a small monthly ration of ibuprofen.

As he was finally being transferred to a federal medical facility, he suffered two heart attacks and was put on life support. On the recommendation of the treating physician, his daughter, Kristin, made the call to terminate support. Twenty minutes after Flor died, federal marshals unlocked the shackles on his ankles, placed there despite the fact that Flor had long before lost the ability even to walk.

Flor will be remembered by those who grew up with him for his kindness, sense of humor and love of dancing. Those who knew him in his later years remember his kindness and great sense of humor and compassion and for his love for — and devotion to — family, especially Sherry.

Everyone who knew him loved him. Memorial services will be held for Flor once Sherry is released from prison, expected by July 2014.

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