|Photo: Matt Gouras/AP|
|Jason Christ smokes marijuana in front of the Great Falls Civic Center. Christ holds mobile clinics to help people get their state-issued medical marijuana cards in Montana.|
Traveling cannabis caravans, responsible for signing up thousands of people for medical marijuana cards in the past year, may become a thing of the past in Montana if a group of lawmakers gets its way.
A bipartisan panel spent most of Tuesday morning discussing changes to Montana’s existing medical marijuana laws, taking aim at traveling clinics, which some accuse of “exploiting” the law, reports Jennifer McKee of the Missoulian.
Among the committee’s ideas: Physicians who recommend marijuana for their patients must have an “established practice” in Montana, and they must have a face-to-face evaluation of a patient before authorizing them to use medical cannabis.
“No more telemedicine, no more traveling,” said Rep. Diane Sands (D-Missoula), chair of the committee.
The panel also recommended that doctors follow “professional standards of care” when dealing with potential medical marijuana patients, including looking at a patient’s medical records before recommending cannabis.
The kinds of health conditions which qualify patients for medical marijuana should also be changed, according to the panel. Patients who seek medical marijuana authorizations for chronic pain would be required to have two doctors’ recommendations, including one by a specialist, according to the committee.
Around 13,000 of the 17,000 Montanans who are authorized to use medical marijuana got their cannabis recommendations for chronic pain, according to Sen. Rick Laible (R-Darby), a nonvoting member of the committee.
The legislators also said that patients should have to have their medical marijuana card on them, along with some form of photo identification, when using cannabis.
The group, a subcommittee of the Families, Children, Public Health and Human Services interim committee, which has been studying medical marijuana, said it should have the bill written by August.
Its ideas, however, are still a long way from becoming law. Any bill would first have to be endorsed by the entire committee, and then presented to the Legislature for approval in January 2011.
The panel’s ideas won’t be the only medical marijuana bills for the Legislature to consider, according to Sands. A range of bills are floating around, from completely repealing Montana’s medical marijuana law all the way to legalizing marijuana for all purposes.
The committee is also considering a ban on publicly smoking marijuana.
While Sands and others on the panel say that the traveling pot clinics have been damaging to public perceptions of medical marijuana, patient advocates say they’ve been made necessary because of the reluctance of other doctors to authorize medical cannabis use.
Many doctors in Montana are forbidden from recommending marijuana to their patients, even if they think it could help them, according to Jim Gingery, executive director of the MNontana Medical Growers Association.
Gregory said doctors who work for any government-supported hospital, and those affiliated with many of the state’s hospitals, cannot authorize marijuana either because their hospital forbids it, or because their hospital could lose federal funding.
“That’s the whole thing with traveling clinics,” Gregory said. “That’s where it god started.”