Pubdate: Mon, 11 Mar 2013
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2013 Missoulian
Author: Charles S. Johnson


HELENA  Medical marijuana advocates are making a final try this 
legislative session to amend the 2011 law that imposed tighter 
restrictions on what was then a booming industry here.

Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, recently introduced Senate Bill 377 
for a group called Montana Association for Rights.

No hearing date has been set yet. The bill has been assigned to the 
Senate Business and Labor Committee, but he hopes to get it moved to 
the Judiciary Committee.

SB377 may face long odds for passage because it expands the 2011 
medical marijuana law in some ways.

In addition, the 2013 Legislature so far has opposed changing the 
current law, killing all six other bills that sought to amend it.

The 2011 law was intended to make it harder for people to get medical 
marijuana cards and squeeze the profits out of the industry.

In June 2011, there were 30,000 medical marijuana carders in Montana 
and about 4,400 providers registered with the state to supply pot to 
cardholders. As of last month, the numbers had plummeted to about 
7,500 cardholders and 300 providers.

"To me, what the bill comes down to is two things," Wanzenried said 
Friday. "It provides a seed-to-sale tracking system to track all 
products, and it provides a remedy for many of these lawsuits."

He said the law hasn't proved workable.

"This is an issue that doesn't go away," Wanzenried said. "The 
litigation is costing taxpayers."

In contrast, he said, SB377 "creates a regulatory framework that's 
reasonable and workable."

Wanzenried said he picked up the bill draft from Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Ramsay.

"I told him and the group working on it if they came up with a bill 
they were satisfied with, I'd put it in," he said.


Nathan Pierce of Billings, executive director of the Montana 
Coalition for Rights, said the bill he helped work on would put into 
place the regulatory structure that voters have sought, while raising 
"much-needed" revenues for certain needs.

"Both of Montana's major political parties campaigned on a promise to 
not only support medical marijuana, but to find a workable and 
realistic regulatory structure," Pierce said.

Shortly after passage of the 2011 law, the Montana Cannabis Industry 
Association and others challenged it in court.

On the day before most of the law was to take effect in mid-2011, 
District Judge James Reynolds of Helena preliminarily blocked some 
provisions from being enforced.

These included the law's restriction on a provider furnishing medical 
pot to more than three cardholders and its ban preventing providers 
from being paid. Another section blocked would have required the 
Board of Medical Examiners to automatically investigate any physician 
who recommended medical marijuana to more 25 or more patients in any 
12-month period at the doctor's expense. Another section would have 
authorized inspections of any provider's records.

Last fall, the Montana Supreme Court overturned Reynolds' decision 
and ordered him to evaluate the law under a stricter legal standard. 
In January, Reynolds did so under the stricter standards and issued a 
new order temporarily blocking the same provisions.

The bill addresses Reynolds' legal concerns.

It also changes the name of marijuana to cannabis, the name preferred 
by those in the business.

Under the bill, physician assistants could recommend medical 
marijuana for patients. Now only physicians are authorized.

It would add post-traumatic stress disorder as a condition for which 
someone could obtain a health care provider's recommendation to get a 
medical marijuana card.

The bill would create the position of "cannabis exchange broker" to 
describe someone registered to arrange for and carry out the transfer 
of marijuana and marijuana plants. Another new position would be the 
"courier" who is registered to transport or deliver the product.

The bill would eliminate the current requirement for those seeking to 
be providers to furnish their fingerprints to facilitate background 
checks by the state and federal agencies.

It also would strike the current law preventing the state from 
registering a provider who has felony conviction or conviction of a 
drug offense, or someone who owes taxes or penalties to a government 
agency, is in default on a student loan or owes child support.

The bill would allow medical marijuana cardholder to possess more pot 
than current law. A cardholder could have up to 2.5 ounces of usable 
marijuana, up from the current 1 ounce, and six mature plants, up 
from the current four. The number of seedlings a cardholder could 
have would remain at 12.

In addition, SB377 would loosen the current ban on smoking medical 
pot in public places.

It would create these minimum quarterly registration fees: $1,500 for 
a marijuana exchange broker, $1,000 for each location run by a 
marijuana infused-products provider, $1,000 for each location used to 
test marijuana and $100 for each person registered as a courier. Each 
provider would pay a minimal quarterly fee of $15 for each 
cardholder, plus $1 a quarter for each marijuana plant.

This revenue would be divvied up four ways. One-fourth would go to 
local governments for public works projects; one-fourth for the home- 
and community-based Medicaid waiver services; one-fourth to the 
public schools' facility and technology account; and one-fourth to 
improve state parks and recreation areas.

It also would create a medical cannabis advisory council.
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