Pubdate: Thu, 15 Sep 2011 Source: Helena Independent Record (MT) Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record Contact: http://helenair.com/app/contact/letters_to_editor/ Website: http://helenair.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/1187 Author: Charles S. Johnson, IR State Bureau MEDICAL CANNABIS CONFERENCE TO START MONDAY The divisive medical marijuana issue is set for a discussion Monday night and Tuesday at a conference in Helena sponsored by the Burton K. Wheeler Center. The conference, "Medical Marijuana: Thoughtful Questions, Responsible Answers," will be held at the Red Lion Colonial Hotel. The registration deadline is at 5 p.m. today for a $35 fee that covers a breakfast, lunch and materials. People may register at http://www.wheelercenter.org/#conferences_events . So far, about 70 people have signed up. "What the Wheeler Center hopes always to do is choose an issue that is of critical importance to the state of Montana," said Julie Hitchcock, its associate director. "And we certainly have that in medical marijuana. It most assuredly will be before the Legislature in 2013 and quite possibly before the electorate next fall." The center, based at Montana State University, is bringing in a diverse slate of speakers to discuss the aspects of the issue. "What we're doing is providing, we think, a unique opportunity for Montanans to gather, out of session, and discuss issues in a comfortable atmosphere, giving all of the participants and attendees the ability to state their own views and to consider the others' positions," Hitchcock said. "I hope we can contribute to a solution, whatever solution that is." Montanans voted for a ballot measure in 2004 to legalize the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. It became one of the major issues facing the 2011 Legislature. Critics believe the Montana system had careened out of control when the number of medical pot cardholders skyrocketed from about 4,000 in September 2009 to about 27,000 in December 2010. The number rose to about 30,000 in June before dropping to about 26,500 last month. Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed a bill that would have repealed the Montana law legalizing medical marijuana. Lawmakers then passed -- and Schweitzer let it become law without his signature -- a bill to make it harder for people to get medical marijuana cards. In the meantime, federal agents raided a number of medical marijuana growing and dispensing businesses around the state. The state law was immediately challenged in court, and portions of the law have been temporarily enjoined. Meanwhile, a separate signature-gathering effort is under way that seeks to put the 2011 law on the ballot next year so Montanans can either reject it or keep it. On Monday night, former U.S. Attorney William Mercer of Billings will kick off the conference with a discussion about federal law, states' rights and medical marijuana with state Reps. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, and Gary MacLaren, R-Victor. Speakers Tuesday will discuss the experience that Montana and other states have had with medical marijuana. Other speakers will discuss who should determine which patients might be candidates for treatment with the product and what kind of a system might support them. One panel will take up who should provide medical pot for patients and under what regulatory structure and how governments might work with the industry. Another panel will consider how Montana's medical marijuana system should be properly enforced, policed and contained and what systems have worked elsewhere in the country. A moderated roundtable discussion is next, followed by a wrap-up by Ralph Johnson, the Wheeler Center's director, before the conference ends by mid-afternoon Tuesday. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.