In another attempt to regulate the hotly debated and contentious issue of medical marijuana, the issue is going back to the people to decide. In 2004 the people of Montana approved an initiative that would allow people dealing with debilitating and often chronic illnesses access to medical marijuana if it was believed medical marijuana would help symptoms. Patients receiving chemotherapy was often proffered as an example by supporters of the bill
However over the years the business of marijuana bloomed and there were many storefronts operating as caregivers that had opened in the Billings area. So called traveling doctors became an issue. Doctors would travel from city to city seeing patients for a fee and then by statistics deemed most to benefit from medical marijuana. There are conditions patients have such as glaucoma that seem to be helped with medical marijuana. However for each story of someone with a previously diagnosed condition that would benefit, there were also stories of people getting medical marijuana cards for depression or knee pain.
According to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) website in May of 2011, the largest population of medical marijuana card holders was 18-30 years old. Chronic pain was the predominant ailment listed.
House Bill 161 passed through the Montana legislation that basically repealed the 2004 Medical Marijuana Act. On April 13, 2011 Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed the measure citing that it invalidated the wishes of the voter approved legislation allowing for the legalization of medical marijuana.
However, Senate Majority Leader R-Jeff Essmann’s Senate Bill 423 passed which severely limited access to medical marijuana and caregivers, also known as medical marijuana dispensaries. It also limited the number of patients a doctor could recommend for the medical marijuana program. On June 30, 2011 a judge ruled that there should be an injunction against SB423.
Proponents for access and availability of medical marijuana appealed SB 423 based on several factors. The appeal was authorized and SB 423 is currently the law governing anything to do with medical marijuana. According to the DPHHS website, on September 17, 2012 the DPHHS sent letters to card holders as well as caregivers upholding SB423. There has been legal action going back and forth. The issue finally has ended up with the Supreme Court. A decision about access, the legality of the Medical Marijuana Act that was based on voters approving the Medical Marijuana Act in 2004, and subsequent legislation changing the language of the act has been challenged.
The issue of access, availability, requirements, regulations and even the legality of the voter approved initiative has made its way to the Supreme Court. Per the DPHHS website, on September 11, 2012 the Supreme Court “effectively lifts the injunction imposed by District Court Judge James Reynolds” which in turn takes the law back to SB423, which greatly limits use and access. However on September 25, 2012 “Montana Cannabis” appealed the decision of the Supreme Court and requested a hearing. The state of Montana is waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court.
None of this may even matter because there is a new initiative on the November 6, 2012 ballot. This has become a very convoluted issue. According to KTVQ website, prior to the passing of SB 423, there were more than 31,000 medical marijuana cardholders in Montana. At present the number of cardholders has dropped to about 9,000. In some way this issue has touched many Montanans.
“In 2004, Montana voters approved I-148, creating a medical marijuana program for patients with debilitating medical conditions. Senate Bill 423, passed by the 2011 Legislature, repeals I-148 and enacts a new medical marijuana program, which includes: permitting patients to grow marijuana or designate a provider; limiting each marijuana provider to three patients; prohibiting marijuana providers from accepting anything of value in exchange for services or products; granting local governments authority to regulate marijuana providers; establishing specific standards for demonstrating chronic pain; and reviewing the practices of doctors who certify marijuana use for 25 or more patients in a 12-month period.
If Senate Bill 423 is affirmed by the voters, there will be no fiscal impact because the legislature has funded the costs of its implementation. If Senate Bill 423 is rejected by the voters, there may be a small savings to the State.
Even if the people of Montana vote against SB423 and the original 2004 law is reinstated, there is still the issue of the federal law. Prior to the passing of SB423, agents for Firearms, Tobacco and Alcohol conducted raids on storefront medical marijuana providers. Medical marijuana is not legal per federal laws and regulations. It also not only a medical issue, it is a business. At the height of the medical marijuana business there was a lot of money involved, illegal practices by some, and vandalism to the storefronts. With all of these issues and experiences, many will be watching to see how Montanans vote on SB423.
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Author: Ericka Osborn
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