|Photo: Eliza Wiley/Helena Independent Record
|District Court Judge Jim Reynolds hears testimony during a case brought before him by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. On Thursday, the judge blocked implementation of key parts of a new restrictive medical marijuana law passed by the conservative Republican-controlled Legislature.
A judge has blocked key parts of Montana’s law that would have imposed tough new restrictions on medical marijuana suppliers starting on July 1.
In a preliminary injunction issued on Thursday, state District Judge James Reynolds in Helena ruled the new limits would effectively deny access to cannabis for many patients entitled to use it under the state’s seven-year-old medical marijuana statute, reports Emilie Ritter of Reuters.
Montana’s medical marijuana law was approved by an overwhelming 62 percent of voters in 2004.
The Montana Cannabis Industry Association brought the case to district court in Helena, asking the the Legislature’s reform law be found unconstitutional, reports Hungry Horse News. The Association said the new law interfered with the constitutional rights of Montanans to pursue good health, and interfered with the relationship between a patient and a doctor.
Judge Reynolds’ 15-page ruling didn’t block implementation of the entire law, as the MCIA and other plaintiffs had sought, reports Charles S. Johnson at the Helena Independent Record. The ruling refrained from making a judgment about whether marijuana has medical benefits, noting that issue had “already been decided” by Montana voters and the Legislature.
|Photo: Montana Legislative Information Office
|Republican Rep. James Knox: “I believe medical marijuana supports the decline of society’s morals”
The judge said provisions of the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year went too far in overhauling the voter-approved ballot measure legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Reynolds specifically blocked provisions outlawing any profits in the supply chain of medical marijuana, including a ban on growers charging customers to recoup the costs of cultivation, and a ban on advertising and promotion of medicinal cannabis.
The judge also barred enforcement of sections of the new law which would have limited cultivation to no more than three patients per supplier.
“The court is unaware of and has not been shown where any person in any other licensed and lawful industry in Montana — be he a barber, an accountant, a lawyer or a doctor — who, providing a legal product or service, is denied the right to charge for that service or is limited in the number of people he or she can serve,” Judge Reynolds wrote.
He added that such restrictions “will certainly limit the number of willing providers and thereby deny the access of Montanans otherwise eligible for medical marijuana to this legal product and thereby deny these persons this fundamental right of seeking their health in a lawful manner.”
Medical marijuana “is a lawful means of seeking one’s own health under this provision,” the judge wrote.
The advertising prohibition, wrote the judge in his decision, “implicates substantial constitutional rights” for caregivers, and “advertising concerning [medical marijuana]cannot be banned consistent with First Amendment principles.”
|Photo: Eliza Wiley/Helena Independent Record
|Democratic Sen. Dave Wanzenreid: “I remember seeing ‘Reefer Madness’ and I felt like I was living through it, especially with the outright lies being told.”
Supporters claimed the new law was designed to close loopholes in the original 2004 measure. They claimed those loopholes are being exploited by some as a pretext for recreational marijuana smoking and large-scale trafficking.
But medical marijuana advocates who challenged the new measure in court said the regulatory reform was deliberately written to make it unworkable, calling it a repeal attempt in disguise.
Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, vetoed an outright repeal bill sent to him by the Legislature in April. But he allowed the regulatory overhaul — which all but repeals the medical marijuana law approved by voters — to become law without his signature.
The number of Montana residents carrying medical marijuana cards jumped from 4,000 in 2009 to nearly 30,000 this year.
Meanwhile, cannabis-growing facilities and dispensaries have grown to more than 4,800 statewide, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Growing facilities are limited to six plants per patient.
The legislative debate leading up to passage of the “medical marijuana overhaul” bill was a classic example of conserdvative fear-mongering around the marijuana issue.
“I know marijuana is a gateway drug, not medicine, because it cannot be delivered in a known measurement with predictable results like other medicine,” lied James Knox, a Republican state representative who worked closely with anti-marijuana group Safe Community Safe Kids.
“Crime is prevalent among drugs and the users of them,” Knox grandly announced, reports Andrew Belonsky at death + taxes. “I believe medical marijuana supports the decline of society’s morals, especially due to the manner in which MMJ has developed into an ‘industry.’ “
“I remember seeing Reefer Madness and I felt like I was living through it, especially with the outright lies being told,” said Democratic state Senator Dave Wanzenreid, a cancer survivor who said he supports medical marijuana because “I’ve met thousands of Montanans from various political leanings who use medical marijuana and whose lives are enriched.”
“We anticipate as many as 10,000 people out of work” if the new overhaul bill is enforced, said Jim Gingery, the former chair of the Madison County Republican Party who now heads the Montana Medical Marijuana Growers Association.
Judge Reynolds will issue a final ruling on the case later this year. Some of the restrictions, including one that says caregivers cannot let non-licensed growers work on their crop, will remain in place. But nevertheless, “the ruling erodes the conservative-backed efforts to repeal a voter approved law,” Belonsky writes.