Montana Releases Final Medical Marijuana Program Rules, Which Take Effect In April

Photo Credit: CASEY PAGE

The state health department tweaked its medical marijuana program rules for testing, fees and other areas before releasing its final draft Feb. 9.

The rules define much of the inner workings of the multimillion-dollar industry, adding to a 2016 ballot initiative and a bill in the 2017 Montana Legislature that set up the system.

The rules specify what kinds of contaminants labs will test for in the marijuana, how providers will secure their businesses and how marijuana will be labeled, among other things.

This is the last revision of the rules before adoption. Initial drafts emerged last year.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services made one major change to the licensing fee structure for providers. A middle fee tier was added for providers serving 11 to 49 cardholders.

Under the previous rules draft, any provider with more than 10 cardholders registered to them would have paid a $5,000 annual licensing fee. Now the middle-tier providers will pay $2,500. The lowest tier will still pay $1,000, and providers with 50 or more cardholders pay $5,000.

The final rules also went further to define what product packaging styles are “attractive to minors” and therefore banned.

The health department removed a provision that banned people with drug convictions from obtaining an employee permit with a medical marijuana business.

Kate Cholewa, a spokeswoman for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, applauded the progress being made for a regulated medical marijuana industry. The MTCIA represents providers, who are the targets of the new rules.

She added that policymakers should continue to be open to revising the system.

“Working with the (health) department and adjustments next session will be very important,” she said.

The health department’s rules were released on the same day that industry backers held the first Montana Cannabis Conference at the Capitol building in Helena.

Providers heard from a round of panelists and aired concerns about program costs, testing requirements and legal issues.

State Rep. Ellie Hill Smith, D-Missoula, emceed the event. She praised the department’s work on drafting the rules, which help to solidify a medical marijuana industry that still faces legal ambiguity in some areas.

That was in part why the conference was held at the state Capitol.

“I think the biggest thing was making folks feel that they could come out in the open and that they were embraced by their government,” she said.

The revised rules will take effect in April.