|Photo: Nick Wolcott/Bozeman Daily Chronicle|
|Dean Folda sits among the marijuana plants he grows at his home in Bozeman, Montana, to treat chronic pain. Getting medical authorization to use cannabis for chronic pain could get a lot more difficult under the tightened rules proposed by a legislative committee on Tuesday.|
A bill tightening Montana’s medical marijuana regulations will be drafted and forwarded to the 2011 session of the Legislature, a panel of lawmakers decided on Tuesday.
Medical marijuana patients and growers warned that the proposal contains some unnecessary restrictions on patients and suppliers of cannabis, which has taken off as a booming business in Montana over the past year, reports Mike Dennison of the Missoulian.
“If we the people pass a law, then how could a legislative body who we elect, completely carve that law up, do whatever they want with it because they put together a committee?” asked Jason Christ, owner of the Montana Caregivers Network, reports Matt Leach of NBC Montana.
However, lawmakers claimed the measure is just one step in a lengthy legislative process, saying that any proposal is likely to be changed many times before it becomes law.
|Photo: Missoula Public Library|
|Rep. Diane Sands: “This is a bill that, at this point, is nobody’s favorite child”|
”This is a bill that, at this point, is nobody’s favorite child,” said Rep. Diane Sands (D-Missoula), chair of the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee.
“No one here is suggesting this will be the final version of the bill,” Sands said.
Sands also claimed the panel’s work is not an effort to prevent anyone with a “legitimate health issue” from getting medical marijuana, but rather to stop what many see as abuses of the system by people who aren’t really sick.
“Medical marijuana is a carved out section within the fact that marijuana in general is illegal, but if you are doing any of the activities that are illegal, then you are going to be prosecuted,” Sands said.
The bipartisan panel voted 7-1 to have the bill drafted and ready for introduction in the 2011 Legislature, which convenes in January.
The only committee member voting against the proposal was Rep. Mary Caferro (D-Helena), who earlier indicated she thought it contained too many restrictions on legal recipients of medical marijuana. Thank goodness there’s at least one true leader on the committee!
The panel has been busily looking for months to find ways around Montana’s medical marijuana law, passed overwhelmingly by 63 percent of the voters in 2004. The legislators, seemingly freaked out by the burgeoning medical marijuana industry in their state, seem to feel they “know better” than the voters themselves what the voters “meant” when they legalized medical marijuana.
Montana, which had fewer than 4,000 medical marijuana patients a year ago, now has about 22,700 registered medical cannabis cardholders.
The bill endorsed by the committee on Tuesday would require medical marijuana patients to be Montana residents (changing the current law, which allows out-of-state patients); require fingerprinting, background checks and licensing for marijuana suppliers; make it much harder to get a medical marijuana card for treatment of “chronic pain;” make medical pot illegal for anyone on parole or probation (apparently, if you have legal problems, you aren’t supposed to have medical problems); and allow cities and counties to use zoning and other laws to restrict — but not prohibit — medical marijuana businesses.
Medical marijuana providers objected most often at Tuesday’s meeting to a provision requiring patients who want to use cannabis to treat chronic pain must get a recommendation from two doctors instead of one.
Bill Hund, a medical marijuana caregiver in Butte, said his patients don’t have much money and can’t afford to see more than one physician.
“I ask you to show a little compassion to these people,” Hund said.
Advocates also objected to a new proposed limit of two ounces of marijuana per month per patient (the previous limit had been only one ounce), saying some patients simply need more to treat their debilitating condition. This is quite true, especially of patients who choose to ingest their medicine through edibles rather than through smoking or vaporization — which is why states like Washington and Oregon have a 24-ounce limit (“60-day supply”) rather than an artificially low one.