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Another Try at Fixing Medical Marijuana Fails

Advocates of medical marijuana have been trying to get a bill through our legislature to amend the existing law. Six bills have tried previously in this session and all six died. Now, a seventh, SB377, is dead in committee as well.

The concern for medical marijuana proponents is that the current law is simply unworkable. They point out that our medical marijuana program has fallen from a high of 30,000 card holders to the current 7,500 because of changes made in 2011 that make it too hard for patients to get their “medication.” They also say the 2011 changes took all the profits out of the industry, making it unattractive for dispensaries to open or stay in business.

Senate Bill 377, introduced by Sen. David Wanzenried, was meant as a compromise, with items in it the conservative side supports. One provision would allow for “seed to sale” tracking of marijuana. It would also create a taxing structure, something those interested in increased state revenues want.

The 2011 modifications restricted caregivers (those who supply marijuana to patients) to three patients, and prohibited them from making money on the drug. This essentially killed the dispensary model, making it both unworkable and unprofitable. Furthermore, physicians who recommended medical marijuana to more than a two dozen patients a year would face investigation, an investigation the doctor would be liable to pay for. These last provisions remain under court-ordered injunction and SB 377 was meant to remedy these defects and make the court case moot.

For now, it seems that no bill affecting medical marijuana has a chance in the Montana legislature. Eventually, the court will have to decide which parts of the 2011 amendments will stay and which will go. Until that happens, advocates have only two ways forward: more bills introduced with the hope that one will pass, or go back to the ballot box, perhaps pushing for full legalization and bypassing the legislature altogether.

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