Former MT legislator rips politicians for ignoring will of people on medical marijuana

Writing in the Great Falls Tribune this week, former Montana legislator William Strizich rips into the legislature and Governor Brian Schweitzer for ignoring not only the will of the people but the pain and suffering of hundreds of patients whose lives have been improved–or even saved by medical marijuana.

He writes:

When Montanans legalized medical marijuana in 2004, they did so by a larger majority than Californians had a few years earlier. More Montanans wanted to protect patients who receive medical benefits from marijuana than voted for President George W. Bush or any other statewide candidate that year.

Today, along with broad agreement that there have been problems and that the law’s loopholes and gray areas require fixing and regulation, polls consistently show that Montana voters still strongly support the principle of medical marijuana rights. One, by Public Policy Polling several months ago, found only 20 percent of voters want to repeal the law, and 76 percent support either new regulation or no changes at all.

A Mason-Dixon poll conducted more recently obtained similar results, showing that a whopping 87 percent supports either new regulation or no change in the current law.

Yet Republican leaders of the Montana Legislature, who have the votes to pass nearly anything, have insisted only on trying to repeal the law rather than fix it. For months, they ignored bipartisan regulatory proposals strongly supported by law enforcement, local governments and patients, and instead passed only a repeal bill.

We don’t treat people this way who use narcotics to deal with their chronic pain, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other severe and usually permanent medical conditions. Yet narcotics — even when used as directed — kill hundreds of people every year, while marijuana itself has never killed anyone.

A study of Montana’s marijuana patients conducted by a pain specialist, and published last September in Practical Pain Management, documented that these patients sharply reduce their dependence on narcotics and function more productively as a result.

Hundreds of sincere and suffering Montana patients have traveled great distances in lousy weather over the past few months to testify that medical marijuana offers them a better option, in many cases the only one that actually works.

How can we tell a woman who no longer endures a dozen seizures every day that she has to go back to using the narcotics that didn’t control her epilepsy but whose side effects did cause her to gain hundreds of extra pounds? How do we tell an MS patient that he has to return to using the drugs that made it impossible for him to talk coherently with his children?

We have to do better. The governor should reject SB423 outright and take on the job of using administrative powers under our current law to create regulation that will control rather than obstruct the will of the state’s voters.

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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