Pubdate: Thu, 06 Sep 2012
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2012 Missoulian
Author: Charles S. Johnson


HELENA -- The number of medical-marijuana cardholders registered with 
the state rose slightly in August, new statistics from the state 
registry showed.

As of last Friday, 8,849 Montanans had medical-marijuana cards, an 
increase of five people from the previous month, according to the 
registry kept by the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The July total of 8,844 medical-marijuana cardholders was the first 
time since May 2011 that the number of cardholders had increased. The 
number of Montana medical-marijuana cardholders, formerly called 
"patients," peaked at 31,522 in May 2011.

The numbers started falling after the 2011 Legislature passed a much 
more restrictive state law, making it more difficult for people to 
qualify for a card.

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association challenged the law last 
year. In June 2011, state District Judge James Reynolds of Helena 
blocked parts of the law from taking effect.

Both the association and the state have appealed parts of Reynolds' 
ruling to the Montana Supreme Court. The court heard oral arguments 
in the case on May 30, but has not issued a decision.

Medical marijuana supporters also obtained enough signatures last 
year to put the 2011 law on the November 2012 ballot as a referendum. 
Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to retain or reject the law.

Medical marijuana advocates have said the declining number of state 
cardholders does not mean fewer people are consuming pot in the 
state. They said a number of medical-marijuana cardholders dropped 
their state cards and instead are buying marijuana illegally from the 
black market.

The state statistics from August showed the average age of a 
medical-marijuana cardholder at 46.

By age group, 29.5 percent of the medical marijuana cardholders are 
between 51 and 60 years old, while 20.7 percent are between 41 and 
50. The statistics show 19.3 percent are between 31 and 40 and 15.8 
percent are between 21 and 30.

The registry showed 1.5 percent of cardholders are between 71 and 80 
years old, while 0.2 percent are between 81 and 90.

At the younger end, 1.4 percent 18-20 years old. Only two 
cardholders, or 0.02 percent, are less than age 18, with the 2011 law 
imposing additional requirements for minors to get cards.

Severe or chronic pain is the most frequent reason cited by 
cardholders in obtaining state cards. A total of 5,512 people cited 
that reason, while 1,124 cited intractable nausea or vomiting. 
Patients can report more than one condition.

By county, Gallatin had the most medical marijuana cardholders with 
1,463, followed by Yellowstone with 923 and Missoula with 909. Next 
were Flathead with 872 cardholders, followed by Silver Bow with 717, 
Lewis and Clark with 536, Ravalli with 511 and Cascade with 289.

The number of providers, formerly called caregivers, dropped to 395 
in August from 399 in July. They are the people authorized to grow 
and sell marijuana to cardholders for medicinal purposes.

Provider numbers also have declined rapidly from their peak of 4,848 
in March 2011. The 2011 law prohibited providers from selling medical 
marijuana for money, although that provision has been temporarily enjoined.

In addition, provider numbers have declined after federal raids of 
more than two dozen Montana marijuana growing businesses in March 
2011, with a number of people charged and convicted of crimes.

The number of physicians associated with cardholders currently 
enrolled in the program continued to fall as well, decreasing to 219 
in August from 224 in July. The number of physicians involved with 
medical marijuana cardholders hit a peak at 365 in July 2011.

One physician has between 2,641 and 2,650 cardholders, while another 
has between 1,121 and 1,130 patients.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom