Montana medical marijuana community continues sharp decline

Montana’s medical marijuana community continues a sharp decline. This after lawmakers made drastic changes to the state’s medical marijuana law last year. Over 30 thousand Montanans were carrying legal marijuana cards before the changes went into effect in July.

Figures from the end of this January show about half that many cardholders—under 16 thousand. There is still heavy debate over whether that’s a good thing.

Helena medical marijuana patient Sarah agreed to an interview only if I didn’t use her last name. She says being a cardholder under the new state rules makes her feel really paranoid—like a second class citizen.

“Myself, I’ve lost several jobs just because my patient status has been identified. It’s discrimination but there’s no current protection for patients in the state right now employment wise,” she said.

She says a lot of patients are not registering for cards anymore because of this fear and are choosing to buy marijuana illegally. Sarah says her provider just quit too, removing her legal source for marijuana.

State Legislators on the Law and Justice Interim committee met to discuss progress of the new rules, passed as Senate Bill 423. The bill replaced the state’s 2004 voter approved medical marijuana law. It halted Montana’s booming marijuana industry—shuttering businesses around the state. Patients now have to pass stricter tests to qualify for cards, growing their own cannabis or getting it from non-profit providers.

Broadwater County Under-sheriff Winn Meehan spoke before the committee. He says he’s having problems with SB 423. He feels it’s tough to get information he needs from the state Department of Public Health and Human Services to effectively enforce it.

“If you want to call and say I need a list of all the providers in my area, they’re gonna say we’re not gonna give you that without a subpoena. But if you tell us an address, we’ll tell you whether that person’s a provider,” Meehan said.

Senate Bill 423 was brought forward by Republican Senator Jeff Essmann. He called it a compromise bill addressing many of the concerns of the conservative dominated legislature while still making the drug available to those who really need it.

“I think Senator Essmann saying his bill was a compromise is laughable,” said Democratic State Representative Ellie Hill. “The legislature has effectively overturned the will of the people of Montana who voted they wanted medicinal and therapeutic use to medical marijuana.”

Committee Chair Republican Senator Jim Shockley is happy with the bill. He thinks it’s working mostly as it was intended.

“Obviously 423 is not a perfect solution,” he said. “Well, if it’s not a perfect solution then perhaps the legislature should revisit it. But right now we’ve got initiatives out there relative to medical marijuana. I don’t think this is appropriate for my committee to get involved drafting our own.”

Shockley is referring to two initiatives voters will consider in November. Both were established by pro-marijuana groups gathering signatures.

CI-110 would amend Montana’s constitution to legalize marijuana and regulate it in the same way alcohol.

And the other is actually putting Senate Bill 423 up to a public vote. It’s called IR-124 and if voters pass it—the new marijuana rules stay in effect. If they vote down IR-124, the state reverts back to the original Marijuana law passed in 2004.

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