Montana: Medical Marijuana Advocates Push Bill To Amend Strict 2011 Law

Montana: Medical Marijuana Advocates Push Bill To Amend Strict 2011 LawBy Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Medical marijuana advocates are making what is being called a final try this legislative session to fix the 2011 law that imposed such tight restrictions on what was then a booming industry that it has been called a defacto legislative repeal of the 2000 law approved by 62 percent of voters.

Senator Dave Wanzenreid (D-Missoula), who has consistently been a friend to medical marijuana patients in the Big Sky state, recently introduced Senate Bill 377 on behalf of a group called Montana Association for Rights, reports Charles S. Johnson at The Missoulian.

A hearing date hasn't yet been set for the bill, which has been assigned to the Senate Business and Labor Committee. Wanzenreid hopes to get the bill switched to the Judiciary Committee.

Political analysts believe SB 377 may have a tough time getting any traction; it would expand the 2011 medical marijuana law in some ways.

The 2013 Legislature, controlled by Republicans, has so far opposed changing the current strict law, killing, so far, six other bills that sought to soften it. The 2011 law was intended by the Legislature to make it harder for people to get medical marijuana cards, and to profit from the industry.

There were 30,000 card-holding medical marijuana patients in Montana in June 2011, with about 4,400 providers registered with the state to supply them cannabis. As of last month, the numbers had fallen to about 7,500 cardholders and just 300 providers.

"To me, what the bill comes down to is two things," Wanzenreid said on Friday. "It provides a seed-to-sale system to track all products, and it provides a remedy for many of these lawsuits.

The 2011 law isn't workable, according to Wanzenreid.

"This is an issue that doesn't go away," he said. "The litigation is costing taxpayers."

SB 377, in contrast, he said, "creates a regulatory framework that's reasonable and workable."

"Both of Montana's major political parties campaigned on a promise to not only support medical marijuana, but to find a workable and realistic regulatory structure," said Nathan Pierce of Billings, executive director of the Montana Coalition for Rights.

Shortly after passage of the 2011 law, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association and others challenged it in court. On the day before it would have taken effect in mid-2011, District Judge James Reynolds preliminarily blocked some provisions from being enforced.

The blocked provisions included the law's restriction on a provider helping more than three cardholders, and its ban on preventing providers from getting paid. Another blocked section would have required the Montana Board of Medical Examiners to automatically investigate any doctor -- at the doctor's expense -- who recommended medical marijuana to more than 25 patients in any 12-month period. Yet another blocked section would have OK'd inspections of any medical cannabis provider's records.

Last fall, the Montana Supreme Court overturned Judge Reynolds' decision and ordered him to evaluate the law under a stricter legal standard. Reynolds did so in January under the stricter standards, and issued a new order -- temporarily blocking the exact same provisions.

This bill, SB 377, addresses Judge Reynold's legal concerns. The bill would also add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list for conditions for which patients can get a doctor's recommendation authorizing medical marijuana use.

The bill would eliminate the current requirement for those seeking to be medical marijuana providers to furnish their fingerprints to facilitate background checks by state and federal agencies.

The bill would also increase the amount of marijuana cardholders may possess from the current one ounce to 2.5 ounces, and the number of mature plants up to six, from the current four. The number of "seedlings" allowed would remain at 12.