Medical Marijuana Bills Hit Committee

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Medical marijuana proponents said Friday that some provisions in the law need to be loosened, and pitched a bill to increase the number of people who qualify for the prescriptions.

The proposal would expand the list of diseases that make someone eligible for a medical marijuana card, adding such illnesses as diabetes and insomnia. Senate Bill 326 also would allow cardholders to posses more marijuana and grow more plants.

Proponents said they are commonsense changes to the medical marijuana law endorsed by voters in 2004. Other diseases that would qualify included post-traumatic stress disorder and hepatitis C.

“What you are going to find is solid evidence in medical marijuana helping with each of these conditions,” said the bill’s sponsor, Missoula Democratic Sen. Ron Erickson.

Medical marijuana users said the current restriction on possession of one ounce of the drug is not sufficient. They said it makes it difficult to keep enough marijuana on hand, and money could be saved buying bulk.

“It would be more cost effective and add time for family and work if I could have 12 ounces of medical marijuana,” said 26-year-old Anthony Swartz of Missoula, who suffers from seizures following a traumatic brain injury. “I am so grateful to have safe, legal access to medical marijuana in Montana.”

The bill would also state that the limit of six marijuana plants only applies to mature plants, and would allow them to start growing new plants even while they had the six producing plants.

One opponent said it was a “backdoor approach” to legalizing the drug. Currently about 1,600 people hold medical marijuana cards in the state.

Police organization also came out against the bill, saying it would allow users to posses far too much marijuana.

“The voters of Montana agreed to one ounce of useable marijuana. That is very different from 12 ounces, or three-quarters of a pound, of marijuana,” said Pam Bucy, with the Montana Police Protective Association.

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee also considered Friday a plan to clarify that authorized “caregivers” under the law are not allowed to use marijuana themselves. It was supported by medical marijuana advocates, the medical community and law enforcement.

No action was taken on either bill.

Two other medical marijuana bills have already been rejected so far this session.

One would have allowed physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners, not just doctors, to certify patients to use medical marijuana. It has stalled in committee.

The other would have stripped medical marijuana rights from users caught driving high. Opponents of the bill, and supporters of the medical marijuana law, successfully argued there is no accurate test for marijuana impairment and that the proposal was unfair.

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