Medical marijuana program on the ropes, but relief may be on the way


Last update: April 27 2016

In February 2016, the Montana Supreme Court issued its final ruling in a five-year legal battle over the state legislature’s evisceration of the state’s voter-enacted medical marijuana law. Unfortunately, nearly all of the revised law was upheld, which means Montana’s system of access to medical cannabis will be gutted. The court imposed an August 31 deadline for the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) to make the transition.

Under the ruling, providers may serve only three patients, will be subject to warrantless searches by law enforcement, and doctors who recommend more than 25 patients in a year will be investigated and audited by state officials. The program is designed to be as unappealing as possible for providers and doctors, placing a tremendous burden on patients. DPHHS estimates that the limitation on the total number of patients that can be served by a provider means that approximately 10,000 patients will have to either start growing marijuana in their homes or simply go without medicine.

The current law is a disservice to seriously ill patients, but there may be hope on the horizon. A campaign sponsored by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association to place a medical marijuana initiative before voters for the November 8 election is currently underway, and lawmakers have signaled they may revisit the law in 2017 in an effort to make it more workable. Two other voter initiatives that would each tax and regulate access to marijuana for adults 21 and over are also underway.

Montana’s harsh marijuana laws and efforts to change them


In Montana, possession of even a single joint for non-medical purposes can land a person in jail for six months, while possession of 60 grams or more (a little over two ounces) can result in a sentence of up to five years. These stiff marijuana penalties cause related negative consequences.

In 2012, there were 1,502 arrests or citations for marijuana-related offenses, 95% of which were for possession. The number of marijuana arrests more than tripled since 2003. At the same time, law enforcement was unable to solve 91% of all burglaries — including home invasions — and over 85% of all motor vehicle thefts. Instead of arresting adults for possession of a product that is safer than alcohol, law enforcement should focus its limited resources on going after real criminals. It’s past time for a better solution. Ask your legislators to support reducing the penalty for possession of cannabis to a civil fine.

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