Montana Legislature tosses medical marijuana law

In 2004, 64 percent of Montanans voted to legalize medical marijuana. Tuesday, the State Legislature voted to overrule the voters, passing a bill to treat medical users of marijuana the same as recreational users are treated–as criminals.

The bill has now passed both the House and the Senate.

Today, the bill sits on the desk of Governor Brian Schweitzer. His communications director said he has ten days to act on the bill.

Among his choices, said Sarah Elliott, are to sign it, veto it, let it become law without his signature or do an amendatory veto, instructing the Legislature that he will veto it unless certain changes are made.

She said Schweitzer had given her no indication what he plans to do. She said, though, that he has indicated in the past that he thinks there needs to be more regulation of the industry. She also said there seems to be a consensus in the Legislature for either repeal or very stringent regulation.

Jim Gingery, director of the Montana Medical Growers Association, told the Colorado Independent this morning that he was on his way to a meeting with Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger. He said he hopes to convince Bohlinger and Schweitzer to establish a task force to study and recommend medical marijuana rules that could address some of the concerns of the Legislature without actually banning medical marijuana.

He said he is hopeful Schweitzer will veto the bill, which would go into effect July 1 if signed into law by Schweitzer.

State Senator and 2012 Gubernatorial candidate Dave Wanzenried has supported medical marijuana in the past but has also said he thinks the laws needs some revision.

From a letter he recently sent Gingery:

Does the law bring relief to many Montanans of every political persuasion and religious denomination from one end of our state to the other? YES, it does.

Does it need to be revised to ensure only those who suffer from chronic pain receive prescriptions for a limited time only after a bona fide examination and diagnosis? YES.

Does it need to include restrictions on where dispensaries can be located? YES.

Do we need to institute inventory controls between the producers and the caregivers/ users? YES.

Wanzenried, a Democrat, told the Independent he favors additional regulation but not an outright ban. He also said some of the proposed regulations coming out of the Legislature go too far.

For instance, one competing bill would require that all medical marijuana patients have four doctor’s appointments with their primary physician and also get a second opinion from another doctor before getting approved for medical marijuana.

Such requirements, he said, are impossible for some people to meet simply because of cost. He also noted that no such requirements exist for prescriptions to other drugs, including narcotics.

“I’m not a physician, but that is inappropriate.”

Another restriction being considered by the Legislature would require each patient to grow their own marijuana. “I’ve met with about 2500 medical marijuana patients, and probably 40 percent of them do not have the ability to grow and cultivate their own medical marijuana.”

He said the push to eliminate medical marijuana or regulate it so tightly that it is virtually banned is coming from the far right. He said the effort may backfire, noting that many right-wing voters are patients themselves.

For instance, he said, many veterans are patients. Many veterans, he said, have lived with either pain or narcotics or both for years. “With medical marijuana, many veterans tell me they are 70 to 80 percent pain free and are less susceptible to post traumatic stress as well. Many of them have told me they are getting their lives back and becoming productive again because of medical marijuana.”

Wanzenried said he absolutely does not support overturning the state’s voter-passed medical marijuana law. “I do support some measures to better control access, but this goes too far.”

As to how his position will play out in the governor’s race, he said he doesn’t know and doesn’t care.

“I have always been willing to take hard positions and stand for what I believe is right. I just have to take the stands I believe in.”

Passage of legislation to repeal the state’s medical marijuana laws comes on the heels of a massive raid on medical marijuana businesses in the state.

Gingery told the Independent his organization is filing Freedom of Information requests in an effort to determine whether lawmakers knew about the raids in advance and what role, if any, they played in planning the raids.

Wanzenried said the raids give people the impression that “everyone in the business is corrupt, but it isn’t true. It’s important to note that they haven’t filed charges against one person yet.”

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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