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Senate Chairman Looks For Med-Marijuana Regulation, Not Repeal

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Saying the Senate lacks the votes to repeal the state's medical marijuana law, Judiciary Committee Chairman Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, said Friday that he'll appoint a subcommittee to work on a bill to better regulate the industry.

Murphy told senators at a Judiciary Committee meeting that he will pick the subcommittee in the next couple of days.

"I think it's the only way to go on this so we can have an alternative ready to the repeal bill," Murphy said in an interview after the meeting.

His committee has scheduled a March 11 hearing on House Bill 161, by House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, which would repeal the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law on July 1. Milburn's bill has already passed the House.

"If the vote were today, I don't think repeal would happen in the Senate," Murphy said.

The senator said it's imperative that the Legislature do something this year.

"What's going to have to be faced before we go home is either we have to pass something or we have two more years of what we have now," he said. "That should be a pretty strong selling point. We could have 78,000 ( medical marijuana ) cardholders by then."

As of Feb. 28, the state had 28,739 people authorized to use medical marijuana. That's up from 2,074 in March 2009 and 12,081 in March 2010, according to state statistics.

Murphy said he would like the subcommittee to amend an existing bill rather than draft a new committee bill. He wasn't sure which bill the subcommittee would work on, but said HB429, by Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, has the broadest title to work with. Berry's bill hasn't passed the House yet.

By 62 percent to 38 percent, Montanans passed a 2004 initiative to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Interviewed later, Milburn acknowledged that his repeal bill faces hurdles in the Senate Judiciary Committee and possibly the full Senate.

"I think that unless I can persuade some people during my testimony that it's going to have a difficult time in the Senate Judiciary Committee," he said. "I'm not giving up hope. Things change daily, attitudes of where people are on it, but I do know it's going to be difficult."

However, he said the full Senate can, by a simple majority vote, blast out a bill tied up in committee to the full Senate.

As for the full Senate, Milburn said it's going to be "very, very close" to get his repeal bill out of that chamber.

Still, Milburn said he's hopeful that senators' attitudes on the bill might change once they hear what's happening with medical marijuana in Montana. That's what happened in the House, he said.

"I think it may change over there too when they hear the testimony not only from myself, but from other people coming in," the House speaker said. "It has drawn national attention and national attention's coming from a lot of states and law enforcement and all of that."

Milburn said he doesn't disagree with Murphy's strategy, provided senators put "extremely strict restrictions" in whatever regulation bill the Senate subcommittee works on.

He said Berry's HB429, which was pulled from the House floor for debate Friday, will be returned to the House Human Services Committee for amendments. Milburn said he expects that committee to amend portions of HB68, by Democratic Rep. Diane Sands, into Berry's bill.

Sands' bill has had a committee hearing, but the House Human Services Committee has not yet voted on it. She introduced the bill on behalf an interim legislative committee that studied the medical marijuana issue last year.

NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: Billings Gazette, The (MT)
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