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Coalition Works On Cannabis Law Reforms

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
A bipartisan group in the House has proposed some major changes that seek to restore Montana's medical marijuana law to what people thought they were voting on in 2004.

Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings, said the amendments will be offered today at a 3 p.m. hearing before the House Human Services Committee on Senate Bill 423, by Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings.

SB423 appears to be the lone-surviving bill to repeal the current law and put into place a strict regulatory and licensing system.

Meanwhile, HB161, by House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, would repeal the law altogether as of July 1. Milburn's bill has passed both chambers and is headed to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has said he wants the law fixed, not repealed.

Besides Smith, others who worked on the amendments Tuesday afternoon were House Majority Leader Tom McGillvray, R-Billings; and Reps. Tom Berry, R-Roundup; Gary MacLaren, R-Victor; and Diane Sands, D-Missoula. Most have been working on medical marijuana bills throughout the session, while Sands was chairwoman and MacLaren vice chairman of an interim committee that studied the issue last year.

They took parts of various bills that they agreed on and are combining them for what amounts to a rewrite of SB423.

"We looked at what we liked in other bills," Smith said.

Some earlier sets of amendments drafted for SB423 may not be offered at the meeting in favor of the bipartisan group's proposals. Earlier, Smith and Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Ramsay, each had a set of amendments prepared for the bill.

Here are some highlights of the bipartisan proposal, according to Smith:

- -- The current medical marijuana law would be repealed mid-year, as Essmann's bill does.

- -- It would be up to a physician to determine what debilitating conditions lead to a recommendation that a patient use medical marijuana. The physician would have to certify that the patient's condition is debilitating, why it is and describe the other medications, procedures and other medical options that had been tried previously to treat the patient but weren't effective.

- -- The state Department of Public Health and Human Services would register all medical marijuana patients and issue them cards. Those who provide marijuana to patients also would have to register with the department. No other state agency would be involved. Local law enforcement agencies would be notified about which people in their cities or counties are legally using and growing medical marijuana.

- -- Montana no longer would have any licensed medical marijuana growing operations or storefront dispensaries for the product.

- -- Instead, one provider could grow medical marijuana for one authorized patient, but couldn't profit it from it. A provider could grow marijuana for a patient, but that patient couldn't grow for a provider. Someone could grow marijuana for up to three people, but only if they are related by blood or marriage, again without profiting from it.

- -- Like other proposals, these amendments would forbid telemedicine as a means for physicians to see patients regarding medical marijuana.

- -- If the amendments were approved and the bill passed, HB175 would be nullified. This bill, by Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, calls for voters to decide by a referendum in November 2012 whether to repeal whatever medical marijuana law is on the books at the time or to keep it.

Smith said the biggest problem with Essmann's SB423 is that it calls for state-licensed medical marijuana growers. That would have required state regulation.

"We wanted to take it back to what Montanans thought they voted for," he said.

He cited language from the 2004 voter information pamphlet in which backers of the initiative said, "Perhaps most importantly, I-148 would allow patients to grow their own personal supply of marijuana so that they will no longer have to buy marijuana from the criminal market."

"It doesn't talk about having businesses and grow operations," Smith said.

Smith has been a strong advocate of repeal, but said these amendments would lead to a bill that amounts to "the next best thing."

Essmann had said his goal under SB423 was to see medical marijuana cardholders drop to less than 2,000 from the current 28,500.

Smith said he wasn't sure how many fewer cardholders there would be if the bill with these amendments passed.

"It's going to be considerably less," he said. "We know it's not going to be the 28,000, 29,000 we have now."


NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record
Contact: helenair.com
Website: Helenair.com
Details: MAP: Media Directory
Author: Charles S. Johnson
 
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