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Medical Marijuana Business Opens In Livingston


420 Staff
LIVINGSTON -- Three years ago, Montana voters decided by a 62 percent margin that marijuana should be available for medical purposes.

No issue or candidate had received that sort of statewide endorsement for 25 years.

Since then, a network of suppliers and users has been created around the state, working under new laws that limit the amount of marijuana that can be grown and sold and who can do it.

Mostly, it's been done quietly, under the radar, in part because providing marijuana remains a federal crime.

Now, two Livingston residents have opened a medical marijuana service and are doing so openly.

Dave Minnick and Rick Rusio operate what they call Caregivers Montana. They even have a Web site called Caregivers Montana :: Medical Marijuana Providers.

"I could have stayed hidden and done this, but it wouldn't make it any more right," Minnick said Thursday. "Many people who need this are scared."

Montana law allows doctors to recommend marijuana for a specific set of ailments, all of them serious. They include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS or other conditions that cause severe and chronic pain, wasting, severe nausea, seizures and severe or persistent muscle spasms, including those caused by multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease. The law doesn't allow use of marijuana for problems like stress, depression or attention deficit disorder.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has issued what users call "green cards" to 468 people whose doctors have decided that cannabis can help them. It also has issued "caregiver" cards to 167 people who can grow up to six plants for each patient.

However, most of those people provide marijuana for only one person, usually a spouse, relative or close friend, according to Roy Kemp, who runs the medical marijuana registry program for the state health department.

Minnick and Rusio are among the 23 "caregivers," who legally grow and sell medical marijuana to multiple patients. Minnick said he started his medical marijuana business four months ago for two reasons: to help sick people and to make some money.

Right now, he's got more demand than he can supply, and he's looking for a larger space so he can take on more patients.

"Our issue is providing access in a safe, comfortable manner," he said. "It's about providing a necessary service at a reasonable price."

The partners wouldn't reveal the price of their product, but said they sell it for much less than the street price of $300 an ounce or more.

To qualify, customers must get a written recommendation from their physician and apply to the state health department for their green card. A copy of the card is also sent to the patient's "caregiver," who undergoes a new background check every time he or she signs up a new customer. Anybody with a felony drug conviction is disqualified.

Doctors aren't allowed to refer providers, so finding one is up to the patient.

Kemp said 135 medical doctors and osteopaths work with the program, but he isn't allowed to give their names to anybody. Nor can he provide names or discuss any specific patients or caregivers.

But they find each other, through word of mouth and the Internet.

Kemp said he's aware of only two people who wound up in legal trouble for exceeding their allowable limits of marijuana, but added that it's not his job to keep track. Only two other patients have lost their green cards, one for providing false information and one for duping his doctor, he said.

Minnick said he urges everybody involved with medical marijuana to follow the laws.

"This is a privilege given us by the people of Montana," he said. "It's important that people obey the law and not abuse the system."

The partners have just a handful of patients now, but say they're looking to expand. They'd like someday to have a hospice-type respite center for the chronically ill, they said.

They know that marijuana can't cure severe illness, but say it can make it easier to tolerate.

"It makes me get up and go and function every day," said Rusio. He is HIV positive and marijuana eases the nausea caused by his medication and soothes the arthritis pain in his back.

Minnick has a green card allowing him to use marijuana to treat pain from an old back injury. His wife uses it to treat an eye disease related to diabetes.

"As long as he's operating in compliance with the law, he's legal, and I guess we'll act accordingly," Livingston Police Chief Darren Raney said of Minnick's marijuana business.

The federal government could be another issue. Officials have cracked down on medical marijuana operations in California and on a patient in Missoula who obtained marijuana through the mail, but so far haven't busted any Montana caregivers.

But Minnick said he feels confident he'll be all right as long as he complies with state law.

"I feel it's everyone's right," he said. "I honestly believe it works. I'm dealing with the sick and needy."

Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle (MT)
Copyright: 2007 The Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Contact: citydesk@dailychronicle.com
Website: Bozeman Daily Chronicle Home Page
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