Montana’s state House and Senate have passed a bill aimed at radically slashing the number of authorized medical marijuana users and eliminating large cannabis businesses in the state.
The measure cleared both chambers of the Legislature on Wednesday, and now heads to Governor Brian Schweitzer for his signature, veto or amendment recommendations. Schweitzer has already vetoed an outright repeal of the state’s medical marijuana law, saying it went against the will of the voters, who approved the law in 2004.
The governor hasn’t indicated whether he would sign or veto the overhaul measure, but has suggested “something could be done” to control the state’s marijuana industry, reports Stephen Dockery at Bloomberg Businessweek. In a budget deal with GOP leaders reached on Friday, Schweitzer added funds to the state budget for medical marijuana, contingent on the passage of the overhaul bill.
Gov. Schweitzer said he was going to make sure legitimate patients still have the option to use cannabis.
"Many people have suggested that this has become so restrictive that people that have actual medical needs for cannabis may be excluded from the process," Schweitzer said. "So we want to look at it very closely and make sure that we’re not locking the door on people that have actual medical needs for cannabis."
Sen. Dave Wanzenreid (D-Missoula) said the bill is too restrictive and will hurt legitimate patients, reports Christian Hauser at KECI.
”I don’t think it represents public opinion at all,” Wanzenreid said. “Does it represent the concerns out there? Absolutely. And are there things we need to do to lighten up the system? Absolutely. But we are going to throw thousands of people with legitimate needs under the bus with this bill.”
"People who want to put an artificial constraint on it by saying you’re going to have to have a volunteer grow medical marijuana is absurd," Wanzenreid said. "There’s lots of people who will have it available illegally for them. And I don’t know how they’re supposed to find out who can legally grow it for them in the first place. That was one of the questions that was unanswered.
Despite its shortcomings, the bill passed the House on Wednesday with a final vote of 70-30, while the Senate passed the measure with a 33-17 vote, reports Marnee Banks at KXLH Helena.
Senate Bill 423, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essman (R-Billings), likely means the demise of the state’s multimillion-dollar cannabis industry. It aims to do away with the state’s profitable marijuana business and replace it with a grow-your-own system.
Under the bill, cannabis would be given to patients free of charge on compassionate grounds. Providers would be limited to three patients each. Under the current system, there is no limit on the number of patients for each provider.
The legislation would almost certainly lead to a huge reduction in the number of authorized medical marijuana patients in Montana, with about 30,000 people currently enrolled in the program.
Montana’s number of medical marijuana patients has grown by almost 10 times in just two years, since the Obama Administration announced it would no longer prioritize going after medicinal cannabis patients and providers in states where it is legal.
Several Montana medical marijuana businesses were the targets of federal raids last month, and a letter from U.S. Attorney for Montana Michael Cotter last week said the prosecution of businesses that sell marijuana is a “core priority” in the Department of Justice.
The tactic of using letters from U.S. attorneys to do the dirty work of threatening patients and providers appears to be the latest iteration of the federal government’s war on the herb and its users.
Last week, progressive medical marijuana legislation was derailed in Washington state after the state’s two U.S. attorneys threatened federal action against state employees if dispensaries were legalized. Then this week, U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh warned that state’s lawmakers the pending legislation adjusting rules for medical marijuana would conflict with federal law and could lead to federal prosecutions.
Here are some highlights from SB 423, the new Montana Medical Marijuana Act:
• Repeals the existing Montana Medical Marijuana Act• Lists debilitating medical conditions which qualify for a medical marijuana card• Defines a standard of care that doctors must comply with to issue a card (prohibits “telemedicine”)• Places regulatory authority with the Department of Health• Limits the number of plants a cardholder can have to four mature plants, 12 seedlings and one ounce of usable marijuana• Defines chronic pain and forces a patient to either have “proof of pain” or have two doctors certify a chronic pain patient• Allows patients to reimburse their provider for registration fees• Prohibits patients from paying cash for their medical marijuana; providers must volunteer to grow the plant.