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 card holders 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 by 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 medial cannabis advisory council.