Medical Marijuana Battle Heats Up In Montana


Photo: Cannabis Fantastic

​The Montana Legislature this spring all but repealed the state’s medical marijuana law — passed by an overwhelming 62 percent of voters in 2004 — but the court battle rages on, as does the battle for public opinion.

First, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association filed suit to block implementation of the new law. Now, the state has responded with court filings of its own, reports Scots Kersgaard at the Colorado Independent.
Montana’s attorney general claims the new, more restrictive law is not unconstitutional, and his office is prepared to fight for it in court in about two weeks. Meanwhile, that same office is tasked with certifying the language being used in a referendum drive to overturn that very law.

Photo: David Grubbs/Billings Gazette
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock claims the new provisions are intended to be “faithful to the original intent” of the ballot measure passed by voters in 2004

​The attorney general’s office said the new provisions are intended to be faithful to the original intent of the ballot measure, “while correcting and reining in the unintended an undesirable abuses and problems that have undeniably occurred,” reports Charles S. Johnson at the Billings Gazette.

Senate Bill 423 is the issue. Heavily debated by the 2011 Legislature, then passed and allowed to become law without Governor Brian Schweitzer’s signature, it repealed the 2004 referendum and imposed more restrictions on the state’s medical marijuana industry, which many legislators claimed was “out of control” (meaning, presumably, that patients for a time actually had safe access).
SB 423 also made it much harder for patients claiming “severe chronic pain” to qualify for medical marijuana. Patients claiming chronic pain will need two doctors’ recommendations.
The new law bans large medical marijuana growing operations and replaces them with a “grow-your-own” system. Providers are allowed to grow for up to three patients, but are not allowed to charge.
The lawsuit filed by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association and others said the new law violates their constitutional rights to equal protection, privacy, dignity, freedom of speech and due process. It also mentioned their right to pursue life’s basic necessities, including personal health, and their right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
In response, Attorney General Steve Bullock’s office claimed the law follows the intent of the 2004 initiative, which carved “a narrow exception from criminal sanctions for the controlled purpose and use for medical purposes.”
Under the new, more restrictive rules, fewer people will qualify for medical marijuana cards, and dispensaries will be out of business. Each patient will be forced to designate who their grower is, and each grower will be restricted to growing for no more than three patients.
The regulations involve added complexity for patients and marijuana providers in order to be registered members of the state’s medical cannabis program.
As the state begins issuing new cards, patients who have the old cards will remain legal medical marijuana patients until their current cards expire, according to Jim Gingery, head of the Montana Medical Growers Association, which is supporting the lawsuit against SB 423 and leading the petition drive to overturn the law.
If they get enough valid signatures, the new law would be suspended and the old law would again be effect until the voters can decide the matter in 2012. If a lower number of signatures is validated, the new law would remain in effect until the matter is decided by voters.
Gingery said they need about 45,000 total signatures to suspend the law, but a certain number is needed from each of at least 51 of 100 districts in the state. He said they are planning to get signatures in every district and so far have about 500 volunteers signed up to collect signatures.
They have until October to collect signatures, but can’t get started until they get the go-ahead from the attorney general’s office.
Gingery said once the new law is fully implemented July 1, all dispensaries will have to be shut down.