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Sponsor Defends Medical Pot Law

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HELENA -- The sponsor of the controversial new medical marijuana law defended it Friday, warning of "unfortunate consequences" if a judge temporarily blocks its implementation.

Voicing his strong support for the 2011 law, Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, said he hopes District Judge James Reynolds doesn't temporarily enjoin Senate Bill 423.

"We need to remember we had a bipartisan group of legislators that came together in the end in that conference committee that returned the law to what voters intended -- a small program for truly ill individuals, a limited number of individuals," Essmann said in an interview.

"I hope the judge doesn't prevent a good-faith bipartisan effort to put some meaningful sideboards on a situation that shocked a lot of Montanans."

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association, a trade association of marijuana groups, sued over the new law and has asked that it be temporarily blocked before it takes full effect July 1.

Essmann said SB423 explicitly grants police powers to cities, towns and counties to regulate location and operation of medical marijuana businesses. Voters in his district were upset that medical pot dispensaries were located a block from schools in Billings, he said.

He said a temporary injunction may jeopardize that provision.

Essmann, an attorney, said he's not aware of any legal authority granting the court authority to enjoin the full law.

"I think it's beyond the scope of a court's power, and it will have unfortunate consequences," Essmann said. "That's what raises a separation-of-powers question."

Federal charges filed Thursday against some medical marijuana caregivers show that the business model promoted by those financing the Cannabis Industry Association lawsuit isn't legally viable, he said.

The original language of the 2004 voter-passed initiative legalizing the use of medical marijuana for certain medicinal purposes said nothing about selling marijuana or operating storefront dispensaries, Essmann said. Voters didn't vote for a de facto legalization of marijuana, he said.

"The Legislature was grappling with trying to conform the law to a series of letters from U.S. attorneys that indicated a commercial business model would still be prosecuted," he said. "So that's why we voted for that approach."

In related news, Anna Whiting Sorrell, director of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, wrote Essmann and fellow Billings Republican Reps. Ken Peterson and Cary Smith to say she's asked agency lawyers to review the department's interpretation of one part of the law.

The legislators had questioned the department's comment on its website's "frequently asked questions" about the new law, saying that a husband registered as a provider couldn't grow medical marijuana for his wife, who is a patient, in their home.

Sorrell said in light of the department's pending review and the court hearing, that issue had been dropped from that section on the website.

During the hearing, James Goetz, attorney for the Cannabis Industry Association, asked a department official about it, saying: "What conceivable worldly purpose does this provision serve?"

In response, Roy Kemp, the department's chief regulator, said, "This section is difficult and is under department review. If the department has misinterpreted this section, it will be redone."


News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: billingsgazette.com
Author: Charles S. Johnson
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: The Billings Gazette
Website: Sponsor defends medical pot law
 
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