Pubdate: Mon, 31 May 2010
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2010 Missoulian
Note: Only prints letters from within its print circulation area
Author: Angela Brandt
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


HELENA - About 9 percent of Montanans on probation and parole, 
including those who were previously arrested for drug offenses, carry 
registered medical marijuana cards, according to statistics released 
last week by the Department of Corrections.

According to Corrections, 778 of the 8,710 probationers and parolees 
here have medical marijuana cards.

Overall, 1.25 percent of Montanans - or more than 10,000 people - had 
a marijuana card as of March 31, according to the state Department of 
Public Health and Human Services.

"It's a ridiculously large amount," said Andrew W. Paul, deputy 
Missoula County attorney, who specializes in drug offenses.

By law, medical marijuana is available to people who suffer a 
"debilitating medical condition." Nearly 7,000 people with medical 
marijuana cards suffer from severe or chronic pain, and another 3,000 
list their ailments as severe or chronic pain/muscle spasms. 
According to the latest records, 355 card holders in the state have 
cancer, HIV or glaucoma.

Justice Department officials are concerned that many users are 
skirting the law by falsely reporting they suffer from chronic pain 
in order to receive medical pot. They believe - and the numbers seem 
to bear out - that the public's image of elderly glaucoma or cancer 
patients as the primary users of medical marijuana is far off the mark.

"I'm all for the cancer patient who is wasting away who needs it. 
That was how this initiative was sold," Paul said. "To call it 
medicine for 80 percent of the people with cards is just a farce."

Paul isn't alone.

"My main concern is the abuse we're seeing," said Mike Menahan, a 
state legislator and deputy county attorney in Lewis and Clark 
County. "There are people it's beneficial for, but the people we see 
the most are scamming the system for their own benefit. I'm afraid it 
will ruin it for the people who are legitimate."


The legalization of medical marijuana has changed how law enforcement 
officials look at probable cause in order to obtain a search warrant 
for illegal growing operations or drug dealers. Paul said if police 
officers receive information on an indoor grow operation, they must 
first check to see if the person is a caregiver and how many 
cardholders the person is supplying. Each grower, or "caregiver," can 
have up to six plants for each patient they supply.

Paul said in his experience, many caregivers are going over their 
limit by anywhere from a dozen to 100 more plants than they can legally grow.

"Every single search warrant, they've had more than their limit," he said.

Growers who possess more than the legal limit are charged with 
manufacture or distribution of dangerous drugs. A person with a 
felony drug offense on their record can't be a caregiver, but can 
have a prescription card.

Paul said one answer to his concerns is complete transparency. Lists 
of caregivers and their patients should be available to law 
enforcement officials 24 hours a day.

Currently, officers can call DPHHS during business hours to check, 
but after hours, there is no way to access the list. This would also 
help those with legitimate prescriptions to ensure they aren't 
unjustly thrown in jail if they are found with marijuana and aren't 
carrying their card, he said.


In probation and parole's Region 2 - the largest of six regions, 
which includes Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, Powell, Granite, Deer 
Lodge, Silver Bow, Beaverhead, Madison, Jefferson, Gallatin, Meagher, 
Park and Sweet Grass counties - 172 people under parole supervision 
have medical marijuana cards.

"It's a big concern for us," Region 2 administrator Monty LeTexier said.

One of the largest issues for probation officers is that there is no 
distinguishable line for abuse of marijuana, as there is with 
prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.

"How can we tell if they are using at a therapeutic level and who is 
abusing it? That makes it very hard for us at a supervisory level," 
said Annette Carter, state probation and parole officer.

Another problem is court-ordered treatment for people with medical 
marijuana prescriptions, LeTexier said. Many treatment programs won't 
work with people under the influence of any mind-altering medication. 
The probationer must then seek a licensed addiction counselor who 
will work with people currently using medical marijuana.


Boyd Andrew Community Services, which provides services across the 
state and is the primary provider of chemical dependency outpatient 
services to residents in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater and Jefferson 
counties, will not provide services for people under the influence of 
medicinal marijuana.

Mike Rupert, chief executive officer for Boyd Andrew, said its 
programs discourage the use of any mind-altering medications, but 
medicinal marijuana is the one substance with which it has a zero 
tolerance policy.

"People are just realizing how it's being abused," Rupert said. "The 
vast majority of these people are scamming the system. It's a joke. 
It's got to be 90-something percent are scamming."

Although Montana voters passed the medical marijuana initiative in 
November 2004, not many cards were issued for the first couple of 
years. In the year after it passed, 176 people were issued cards, 
according to a study prepared for the Children, Families, Health, and 
Human Services Interim Committee in April.

In June 2008, the number of cardholders reached 1,000.

By December 2009, the number had jumped to 7,339.

DPHHS has issued nearly 5,000 more cards in the first three months of 
this year, according to the study - with at total of 12,081 card 
holders as of March 31. About 2,800 people are registered to provide 
marijuana on behalf of one or more patients.


Mineral County has the highest percentage of cardholders, with nearly 
3 percent of the total population. Probation and parole officers 
reported that in Mineral, Ravalli and Missoula counties, 213 people 
currently under supervision have medical marijuana cards.

The actual number of probationers and parolees who have cards may be 
higher, given that some report every six months and may have obtained 
a card in the meantime, and sometimes it is only revealed that an 
offender has a card after failing a urinalysis.

The Department of Corrections in 2008 proposed banning anyone on 
probation from using medical marijuana. That was abandoned when it 
was realized the state's medical marijuana law does not allow any 
penalty for using medical marijuana, regardless of a person's criminal history.

"The problem is we're really on the cusp of this issue," said Bob 
Anez, spokesperson for Corrections. "It has incubated in the 
background for quite some time."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom