Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jun 2011
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record
Author: Charles S. Johnson, IR State Bureau


With Montana's new, more restrictive medical marijuana law taking
effect in just 11 days, questions arose in court Tuesday about the
product's availability after June 30, confusion over the law and two
physicians' future unwillingness to recommend medical pot.

The questions came up in the second day of a hearing on an attempt by
the Montana Cannabis Industry Association and others to stop the law
from taking effect on constitutional grounds. The state attorney
general's office disagreed, arguing the law, enacted this year, passes
constitutional muster.

District Judge James Reynolds said he won't rule immediately from the
bench when the hearing ends today. He said he intends to issue an
order by June 30, but perhaps not a full decision by then.

Bozeman attorney James Goetz, representing the Cannabis Industry
Association, pointed out inconsistencies and confusions in the new law
and their practical consequences. Assistant Attorney General Jim
Molloy said the situation isn't much different than shortly after
Montana voters in 2004 approved an initiative legalizing medical
marijuana and can be worked out.

Goetz questioned Roy Kemp, chief regulator for the state Department of
Public Health and Human Services, about the availability of medical
marijuana before and after July 1.

Kemp said cardholders can buy medical pot from caregivers before July
1 or grow it themselves, like one-third of current patients do.

Goetz asked what happens after July 1, when commercial growers and
caregivers are eliminated. After that, patients can either grow their
own product, or they may obtain it from providers (the new name for
caregivers). Providers can supply medical pot to only three patients
apiece but can't be paid for their services in a legislative effort to
squeeze the money out of the industry.

The attorney noted that the law requires caregivers to turn in their
mature marijuana plants, seedlings, leaves and cuttings before July 1,
leaving no marijuana available after that unless cardholders are
growing their own.

Goetz asked Kemp where a cancer patient needing to control nausea
during chemotherapy would turn to obtain medical marijuana after July

"They likely would not have any resources whatsoever," Kemp

Goetz asked Kemp if this isn't this "a Catch-22 situation."

Replied Kemp: "I would agree under your original analysis it seems to
lead you right back to the beginning, which is an impossible place to begin."

Molloy, however, suggested through witnesses that paid medical
marijuana consultants could help patients grow pot for a fee,

Another issue involved the state agency's interpretation of the law
that a husband registered as a provider can't grow medical marijuana
for his wife who's a cardholder. This was part of the agency's
website, which contains frequently asked questions about the new law.

"What conceivable worldly purpose does this provision serve?" Goetz

"This section is difficult and is under department review," Kemp said.
"If the department has misinterpreted this section, it will be redone."

Last week, three Republican legislators, including the bill sponsor,
Sen. Jeff Essmann of Billings, wrote the department to dispute its
interpretation on this matter.

Two physicians testified that they will close their practices and no
longer recommend medical marijuana to patients if a new state law goes
into effect July 1.

Drs. John Stowers of Great Falls and Michael Geci-Black of Bozeman,
both plaintiffs in the lawsuit, each objected to another provision in
the new law. It would require the state Board of Medical Examiners to
conduct a review of any physician who recommended medical marijuana to
25 or more patients over a 12-month period, at the doctor's expense.

"I will absolutely no longer provide this service to our community,"
said Stowers, an emergency room physician who has operated a clinic to
issue medical marijuana cards three to five days a month. "Even if
they find in my favor, I believe it's a black mark on my record for my

He said it sets up "another standard of care that doesn't exist in any
level of medicine."

In his testimony Monday, Geci-Black said, "My opinion is that the
implementation of this bill will force me to close my practice in Bozeman."

Dr. Mary Anne Guggenheim of Helena, a member of the Board of Medical
Examiners, said she wasn't sure how the board would deal with the
required reviews. However, she said the board isn't out to punish
doctors, but instead seeks to protect patients.

Results of any board investigations will remain confidential, she
said, unless the board takes disciplinary action.

The hearing concludes at 8:30 a.m. today in state District Court in
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