Pubdate: Wed, 08 Aug 2012
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2012 Missoulian
Author: Charles S. Johnson


HELENA - For the first time in more than a year, the number of
registered medical marijuana cardholders in Montana increased last
month, although slightly.

As of July 31, Montana had 8,844 registered medical marijuana
cardholders, according to the Medical Marijuana Program in the state
Department of Public Health and Human Services. That's 163 more than
the 8,681 registered at the end of June.

It's the first monthly increase in medical marijuana cardholder
numbers since May 2011, when the monthly totals rose to 31,522 from

Since May 2011, medical marijuana cardholder numbers have nosedived,
dropping to less than a third of the total then.

A more restrictive 2011 state law, Senate Bill 423, that made it more
difficult to qualify for a so-called "green card" and for providers to
qualify to grow and sell marijuana legally.

Another factor was the federal raids on more than two dozen Montana
marijuana growing businesses in March 2011, with a number of people
charged and convicted of crimes.

The number of providers, formerly called caregivers, also rose to 399
at of the end of July from 390 the previous month. The number had
peaked at 4,838 in March 2011.

The latest statistics showed 224 physicians are associated with
patients currently enrolled in the program, down from 225 the previous
month. The number of physicians peaked at 365 in June 2011.


So why have the patient numbers started to increase

Roy Kemp, deputy administrator of the Quality Assurance Division in
the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, said he
believes the number of cardholders has reached an equilibrium.

"During the course of implementation of (SB) 423 - it was implemented
a year ago in July - we saw a precipitous decline in people not
renewing," Kemp said. "During each of the months, there were people
renewing their cards and new patients coming on. Where we had huge
drops, we had new patients coming on in every month of the last 12."

Kemp added, "Really, what you're looking at right now is where you
have none of the chaff in the new registry."

People under supervision by the state Corrections Department can no
longer get medical marijuana under the 2011 law, he said. People who
decided they couldn't find a caregiver or lacked the access to one or
the money to afford medical marijuana also dropped out, Kemp said.

He said department officials thought the number of medical marijuana
cardholders would eventually stabilize at 8,000 to 9,000.

But Kemp said he's not making any predictions, adding: "As volatile as
this is, you know damn well it could go in any direction."


Chris Lindsey, president of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association,
agreed there are still new cardholders signing up.

"Even with a bad law, there are people out there who still believe in
the therapeutic value of cannabis as medicine," he said. "Doctors
still make recommendations, and their patients aren't all folks who
are simply reapplying. It also includes new patients in the program."

Lindsey attributed the drop of cardholders to people who let their
medical marijuana cards expire after the new law took effect because
they didn't "trust that the program would provide them protection from
law enforcement efforts - and in fact may have put them at greater

All cardholders now in the program applied after the 2011 law took
effect, he said. Cards are good for one year.

"I think it is reasonable to assume that the attrition rate will be
much lower because we are now past the exodus of patients who left out
of disgust at the current bad law," Lindsey said. "This may, of
course, be a statistical anomaly, but I suspect that we will see the
numbers trending up slightly as we move forward."

Voters in November will have a chance to reject or retain the 2011 law
when they vote on Initiative Referendum 124.

"We hope that the voters will reject the current law by rejecting
IR-124 at the ballot, and demand that the legislature provide us with
a better set of regulations that will help both communities and
patients alike," Lindsey said.

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Medical marijuana cardholders

HELENA - Here are the number of medical marijuana cardholders
registered with the state, by month:

* May 2011: 31,522.

* June 2011: 30,036.

* July 2011: 27,355.

* August 2011: 26,492.

* September 2011: 24,821.

* October 2011: 20,223.

* November 2011: 19,239.

* December 2011: 18,012.

* January 2012: 15,984.

* February 2012: 14,364.

* March 2012: 11,993.

* April 2012: 10,640.

* May 2012: 8,724.

* June 2012: 8,681.

* July 2012: 8,844.

Source: Montana Medical Marijuana Program Registry, state Department of 
Public Health and Human Services.
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