Pubdate: Thu, 26 May 2011
Source: Missoula Independent (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Missoula Independent
Author: Jeff Essman


There has been much media coverage lately of the legal challenge to 
Senate Bill 423, the new Montana Marijuana Act recently enacted with 
strong bipartisan support of 113 of 150 Montana legislators. A legal 
action was filed by the highly paid hired gun of the millionaire 
marijuana growers to prevent them from losing their very profitable 
business model on July 1. A variety of claims have been circulated by 
those wishing to retain the "Wild West" situation developed under the 
ambiguous language found in the original act, which set up a system 
for people to access a product that is still illegal under federal 
law. It is time to debunk those claims.

First, the proponents for retaining the current mess argue that 
eliminating the storefront model, which allowed a "caregiver" to 
provide marijuana to hundreds of registered cardholders, will 
effectively eliminate all access to the product, as the cardholders 
will be forced to grow their own, which they are alleged to be 
incapable of, or be aided by a provider that is limited to a maximum 
of three cardholders, the "small provider" model.

Of the 14 states that have approved the use of marijuana by 
chronically sick or terminally ill people, five states, including 
Alaska, Nevada, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington, currently use 
the small provider model. I am not aware of any evidence that shows 
that the model used in these other states has denied access to the truly ill.

SB 423 does not prohibit a cardholder who grows their own from paying 
for assistance so long as the advisor is not a registered marijuana 
provider, and the advice does not include the act of "cultivation" 
prohibited by other criminal laws. The point of prohibiting 
compensation to registered providers was to divorce the cash from the 
privilege of transporting marijuana around the community, for obvious 
reasons. Reasonable access and assistance is still permitted.

There is no constitutional right to access marijuana, although the 
plaintiffs' pleadings can be read to make that reach. If the court 
finds that unregulated access to marijuana is required by the Montana 
Constitution under the "pursuit of life's necessities" provision it 
contains, we may soon see similar claims for other controlled 
substances such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and improperly used 
prescription drugs. After all, the argument will go, whose job is it 
to decide what is medicine and for whom?

As of May 1, a group of 33 doctors in Montana have certified 28,959 
patients, or an average of 877 each. Therefore, SB 423 prohibits 
financial relationships between doctors and marijuana growers and 
requires the Board of Medical Examiners to review whether doctors 
certifying more than 25 patients a year are following the board's 
adopted protocols. There can be no interference in a doctor patient 
relationship if a valid relationship does not exist.

SB 423 dismantles the "Montana Cannabis Industry" but preserves 
reasonable access for legitimate cardholders to a substance that, I 
must remind everyone, remains illegal to possess and distribute under 
federal law.

Jeff Essman

Senate Majority Leader

- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom