Montana Law: Fewer Legal Marijuana Patients, More Illegal Users



​A study on the effects of Montana’s tough new medical marijuana law, adopted by the Republican-controlled state Legislature last year, shows the number of patients and providers has dropped since the makeover of the law passed by voters in 2000.

But the new law has also created a lack of access and forced many patients to return to the black market, according to Kate Cholewa, policy director for the Montana Cannabis Industry, reports Ryan Whalen at Beartooth NBC. Cholewa who said patients were scared they won’t be protected from the federal government by the new Senate Bill 423.
“This doesn’t necessarily end up with fewer people using cannabis,” Cholewa said, reports Charles S. Johnson of the Helena Independent Record. “It just ends up with more people you can put in jail for it.”

Kate Cholewa, Montana Cannabis Industry Association: “This doesn’t necessarily end up with fewer people using cannabis. It just ends up with more people you can put in jail for it.”

​”Unfortunately, the objective of the legislation was to make everything more difficult, not to make everything better and so as a result you do have the outcome of everything’s more difficult,” Cholewa said.
Cholewa said there is “pervasive” fear after this year’s federal raids of marijuana growers in Montana. Many providers are now growing fewer than 100 plants each, according to Cholewa, since they have heard the feds will only go after those growing more than that amount.
“People are producing less plants, which means bigger plants, which means lower quality product,” Cholewa said.
The reduced number of plants has driven up the price both for medical marijuana sold legally and for black-market marijuana sold illegally, she said.
In addition, it’s become much more expensive to get a physician’s medical authorization. The price has risen from $150 before the new law to as much as $350 today, Cholewa said.
“The medical (marijuana) market is less accessible and in some ways it’s less desirable for people because it’s seemingly more dangerous,” Cholewa said. “Some people are saying the black market is safer.”
The Department of Public Health and Human Services told an interim committee of lawmakers on Monday that the number of medical marijuana cardholders has dropped by about 16 percent through August.
As of August 31, Montana had about 25,500 medical marijuana cardholders, down from 31,500 as of May 31, according to a report presented to the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee.
The number of providers who sell medical marijuana to patients has plummeted even more precipitously, from 4,650 on May 31 to 285 on August 31, or nearly 94 percent. Providers were known as caregivers under the previous law.
New rules will go into effect on September 23 requiring all current providers of medical marijuana to be fingerprinted, according to Roy Kemp, chief medical marijuana regulator in the state health department. The state has sent fingerprint kits to 477 current and and pending providers.
Their licenses will be revoked if they don’t return the fingerprints by October 1, Kemp said. After September 30, all people applying to be medical marijuana providers must have passed the fingerprint background checks before they can become registered.
SB 423, with the intention of making it much harder to get authorized to use medical marijuana, took effect on July 1, but a District Court temporarily stopped parts of the law from taking effect then.
A signature-gathering effort is underway to let Montana voters decide in 2012 whether to keep or reject the controversial 2011 law, which reversed much of what 63 percent of the state’s voters had approved in 2004.
A group called Patients For Reform Not Repeal has reported some success in gathering signatures to ask voters to throw out the tougher new law.