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Marijuana Dispensaries Could Face Closures

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As the 62nd session of the Montana Legislature comes to a close, the fate of medical marijuana is becoming clearer.

House Bill 161, which would completely repeal the 2004 voter initiative that legalized the use of medical cannabis in Montana, has been sent to Gov. Brian Schweitzer's desk. The governor has told the press that he would not sign that bill and would prefer to keep medical marijuana for those who need it.

Senate Bill 423 would greatly reduce the number of people able to use medical marijuana. It limits registered caregivers to one cardholding patient, plus two other patients as long as they are related by blood or marriage to the caregiver. In addition, it reduces the number of plants caregivers may grow per patient. The bill also prevents caregivers from accepting compensation for any services or products given to patients.

Joel Haffey, assistant manager at Montana Cannabis and Hemp Foundation, said that these provisions, and most importantly the non-compensation stipulation for caregivers, would make growing marijuana plants very unappealing.

"It makes growing a non-profit," he said.

University of Montana graduate student Blair Gemmer is both a patient and a medical marijuana grower. Gemmer said he's invested about $12,000 into his marijuana plants for eight patients, and estimates he's made $5,000.

If growers lose their small profits, Gemmer said no one will want to go through the hassle, and patients could lose access to experts.

"A lot of people don't know how to grow," he said.

LJ, a medical marijuana patient who preferred to use only his first name, works at Big Sky Health and said that patients aren't the only ones who would be affected by the passage of SB 423. He estimated about 12 people would be out of work if the facility was forced to close.

Deni Llovet, a nurse practitioner at River City Health, is not pleased with the provisions in SB 423.

"It is essentially repeal in legislative clothing," she said.

River City Health is a facility where patients can get a physician statement saying their condition could be treated with medical cannabis. It is a small piece of the business at River City, but Llovet said it's an important one.

"I feel patients deserve the option to use an herbal medication that's been around for tens of thousands of years," she said.

If the bill is passed, and access to medical marijuana is reduced, Llovet fears people return to illegal means to obtain the drug.

"Patients will be forced onto the black market," she said.

Both Haffey and Llovet said they believe the bills in the Legislature are the direct result of the increase in medical marijuana patients.

Haffey reported a statewide increase of 20,000 medical marijuana patients from December 2009 to December 2010.

"It's a fear-based [bill]," Levette said. "People are afraid of stuff they don't understand."

SB 423 was sent to the governor Wednesday. He has until Saturday to veto the bill or it becomes law.

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: montanakaimin.com
Author: Paige Huntoon
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: Montana Kaimin
Website: Marijuana dispensaries could face closures
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