Montana lawmakers pass new medical marijuana regulations


Last update: May 4, 2017


Montana’s medical marijuana program has undergone a transformation in recent months – coming back from a near-death experience, but emerging as a different program than before. A state supreme court ruling went into effect last September, upholding a hugely burdensome law and all but ensuring the program could not function. Voters responded in November by reversing the worst provisions and making important improvements. One of the biggest changes was the establishment of a regulatory system to oversee medical marijuana businesses – a first since voters adopted the medical marijuana program in 2004.

This year, lawmakers considered their own regulatory system and passed SB 333, which changes the program further. The bill makes many improvements (including protections for workers and better possession limits for home cultivators), but it also has troubling provisions. Providers would be required to pay a tax, even though patients – who would ultimately bear the burden of any tax – would have to make up the difference. There are provisions to reduce licensing fees accordingly, but it is possible prices could go up for patients. The governor has not yet signed the legislation, but he is expected to do so.

Finally, regulators at the Department of Public Health and Human Services will consider rules the agency will adopt later this summer to further define the rules of the road for businesses. It is a period of change for businesses and patients. The good news is that the program, at last, appears to have a reliably certain future, even though unknowns yet remain.

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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