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House Panel Pushes Out Amended Medical Cannabis Bill

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Montana - Over Democrats' objections about making a rushed decision, a House committee on Wednesday night heavily amended and then pushed out a bill to repeal Montana's medical marijuana law and impose even tougher restrictions than the original bill.

The House Human Services Committee voted 10-5 to amend a new bipartisan set of amendments into Senate Bill 423, by Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, on a nearly partisan vote. All Republicans but one voted for the amendments, and all Democrats except one opposed it. Then the full committee voted 12-3 to send the bill to the House floor for debate.

The amended bill of SB423 is the last remaining bill – other than an outright repeal bill – to tighten regulations on an industry that even advocates admit has reeled out of control here.

The amended bill would repeal the current law July 1, just like the original bill, and enact sweeping controls and limits for the use of medical marijuana.

Under the revised bill, licensed medical marijuana growing operations and storefront dispensaries would be put out of business July 1.

Instead, one provider could grow marijuana for one authorized patient, but couldn't be paid for it. A provider could grow medical pot for up to three people, so long as the grower is related by blood or marriage to two of them. Again, the grower could not be compensated. Providers couldn't be patients and vice versa.

It would be up to a physician to determine what debilitating conditions lead to a recommendation that a patient use medical marijuana. The doctor would have to certify that the patient's condition is debilitating, describe what other medications and procedures have been tried in the past and continue to supervise the patient's use of marijuana and evaluate its effectiveness.

The Department of Public Health and Human Services would continue to issue medical marijuana cards. It would send local law enforcement officials the names of all registered cardholders and providers in their areas.

The stated goal by amendment backers is to dramatically reduce the number of registered medical marijuana cardholders, now at 28,300.

Another measure, House Bill 161, by House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, would repeal the 2004 voter-passed medical marijuana law on July 1. It has passed both the House and Senate, and it will be up to Gov. Brian Schweitzer to sign or veto it. The governor has said he would prefer to fix Montana's medical marijuana law, not to repeal it.

The voting on SB423 took place shortly after the bill hearing, and the committee essentially came up with a new bill through a major amendment.

Republican Reps. Cary Smith and Tom McGillvray of Billings and Gary MacLaren of Darby and Democratic Rep. Diane Sands of Missoula came up with the ideas Tuesday and the bill was drafted by a legislative researcher who finished them early Wednesday morning.

The committee voted in favor of the strict amendments offered by Smith and against a separate set of amendments presented by Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Ramsay, that drew support from the Schweitzer administration's Department of Public Health and Human Services and some from the medical marijuana industry.

Representatives of law enforcement and local governments said they could support Essmann's original bill or would back it with either the Smith or Noonan amendments.

Committee members debated about whether it was right to vote on a set of amendments they had not had much time to study.

"I'm really opposed to taking executive action on amendments we were just handed as we sat down here," said Rep. Tim Furey, D-Milltown. "I don't think it's fair that we take action on something we haven't even looked at."

Smith replied that the House is facing a transmittal deadline early next week on the bill.

"If we don't get this bill handled real quick, the window of opportunity is gone," he said.

Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, said she received the 19 pages of the Smith amendments at 2:02 p.m. Wednesday, less than an hour before the hearing began.

"It's an affront to the legislative process," she said.

But Rep. Michael More, R-Gallatin Gateway, said he feels like actor Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day," a reference to the committee's frequent hearings, day after day, on medical marijuana bills.

"I really don't see that this is that complicated," More said. "We have to take some action on this. We can't spin the wheel again."

Committee chairman Rep. David Howard, R-Park City, again called medical marijuana "a scourge" on Montana.

"I want it regulated down to the furthest point," the retired FBI agent said. "This does it. I would prefer it would be repealed. We don't know what the governor is going to do."

Noonan, however, said the amended bill would limit access to the medication that Montanans wanted certain people to have.

"It turns a regulation bill into a grow-your-own bill," he said, forcing ill people to illegally buy marijuana on the black market again.

During testimony, Roy Kemp, who administers the medical marijuana registry at the Department of Public Health and Human Services, raised criticisms about the Smith amendments.

At present, he said many providers are now patients as well. He said only 162 providers statewide aren't medical marijuana patients.

"It will force patients back on the black market," he said.

Kemp suggested allowing a provider to grow medical pot for up to 50 patients.

A number of people involved in the medical marijuana industry, as well as those favoring outright repeal, blasted the bill.

Nathan Pierce, speaking for Montanans for Responsible Legislation, representing thousands of medical cannabis patients, called the committee's efforts "an 11th hour attempt to cobble together some of the most punitive efforts."

He said the group's constituents "cannot live under the draconian parameters laid out in SB423."

Rose Habib, a chemist with CannabAnalysis Laboratories in Missoula, said she appreciated the Noonan amendments.

"I can feel disdain, apathy and utter disregard in every word written by Sen. Essmann and Rep. Smith, trivializing their constituents' pain," she said.

Laura Needham of Billings said she favors repealing the law and opposes SB423 because it still allows for the cultivation and use of marijuana, an illegal drug.

"I'm opposed to the state of Montana creating laws that are federally illegal," she said.

NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: helenair.com
Copyright: 2011 helenair.com
Contact: Helenair.com - Helena, Montana Daily News
Website: House panel pushes out amended medical cannabis bill
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