Pubdate: Fri, 01 Jul 2011
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record
Authors: Charles S. Johnson and Mike Dennison, IR State Bureau 


Reactions were mixed Thursday to a district judge's ruling temporarily
blocking parts of a 2011 medical marijuana law from taking effect today.

Those in the medical marijuana business were pleased that District
Judge James Reynolds of Helena issued a temporary injunction blocking
parts of the new law.

However, they warned that the decision leaves them in a no-win
situation during the transition. Caregivers go out of existence at
midnight Thursday and become providers under the new law.

They had been seeking to temporarily block implementation of the
entire law.

"The ruling basically completes what the Legislature wanted to do,
which is to shut us all down," said Misty Carey, who owns a business
in Bozeman providing medical marijuana to 200 patients. "As of
midnight (Thursday night), no one who is a caregiver is a caregiver
anymore. Patients have to reapply to have me listed as their caregiver
(provider). I've had that take up to 13 weeks. I won't be able to
survive that long."

James Goetz, the Bozeman lawyer representing the Montana Cannabis
Industry Association and others challenging the law, agreed there are
problems with the transition under the law and the ruling. He said he
will contact the attorney general's office in hopes of working out
some of the inconsistencies.

Reynolds granted the temporary injunction blocking parts of the new
law. A hearing will be scheduled later on the Montana Cannabis
Industry Association's request for a permanent injunction to block the
entire law.

The association and other plaintiffs had been seeking a temporary
injunction to give them time to gather enough signatures for a
referendum to put the issue on the 2012 ballot and to get even more
signatures to suspend the entire law until voters decide its fate.

"Overall, I'm quite pleased," Goetz said of the ruling. "The core
issue, as I said in court, is the access to medical marijuana. I like
to get everything. We got most of it. We got the key things."

In a statement from the state Justice Department under Attorney
General Steve Bullock, which defended the law in court, spokeswoman
Judy Beck said the agency is pleased that Reynolds didn't block the
entire bill.

"Important provisions that should curb some of the worst abuses will
become law," Beck said, "Based on an initial review of the decision,
however, we are concerned about the potential consequences of allowing
providers to grow and sell marijuana to an unlimited number of

Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, who sponsored the law
that was challenged, said he was disappointed that four sections were
temporarily enjoined. He said it comes down to a fundamental decision
over who should write state policy--the Legislature or courts.

"It is very important to note that this was a 35-section bill and most
of the bill is moving forward and will be in effect," Essmann said.

One key provision that remains intact imposes much stronger
restrictions for patients claiming "severe chronic pain" to obtain
medical marijuana cards. Critics considered this one of the major
loopholes in the 2004 law that allowed many people in their 20s to
obtain medical marijuana cards.

Under the law, there must be objective proof from testing or a second
physician's confirmation before someone claiming "severe chronic pain"
can obtain a card.

"People shouldn't assume it is as it was before because that is not
the case," Essmann said.

He said that remaining provisions include a requirement that two
physicians certify that minors can get a medical marijuana card;
prohibition of medical marijuana from being bought, sold or used in
plain view; prohibition of marijuana from being imported from out of
state; and a ban on physicians being affiliated with medical marijuana
providers and being paid by providers.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who had criticized Essmann's bill and let it
become law without his signature, had no comment.

Monica Blanchard, a medical marijuana caregiver with 15 patients in
Livingston, called the ruling "better than nothing" but said she had
hoped Reynolds would enjoin the entire law.

"I'm surprised that he didn't just hold back the entire law until we
can exercise our constitutional right to referendum on the law," she

House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, sponsored a bill to repeal the
2004 voter-passed medical marijuana law, but Schweitzer vetoed it.
That led the Legislature to pass Essmann's bill, which was challenged.

Milburn was highly critical of Reynolds ruling, saying, "This is
unprecedented in what (the judge) is doing. He's trying to legislate
from the bench and is putting out his own personal feeling on the law.
He's totally trying to gut the law to where it is unenforceable."

He said the bill was meant to severely restrict the use of medical
marijuana, as envisioned by voters who adopted the law in 2004.

Sen. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula, a leading critic of Essmann's bill,
said he supported greater restrictions and regulations on medical
marijuana, but said the new law went "way too far."

"I'm a firm believer that any industry, particularly a health care
industry, needs regulation," he said. "We weren't imagining an
industry (when we passed the law). We made a mistake by not putting in
regulations at that time." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.