Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jun 2011
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record
Author: Charles S. Johnson, IR State Bureau


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

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 goes into 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

Essmann, an attorney, said he's not aware of any legal principle
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

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 legislation 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 Department, 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 the frequently asked
question on the website. 
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