Panel Offers Ideas to Change Medical Marijuana Law

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Lawmakers will be getting more than two dozen ideas for changing the state’s medical marijuana law from those in the marijuana industry and those charged with policing it.

A legislative interim committee grappling with the increasingly controversial medical marijuana law will be taking the ideas in hopes of drafting new proposed laws. The state said that by mid-June the fast-growing registry of medical marijuana patients was hovering around 17,000 or more.

The ideas include tougher restrictions on medical marijuana on school property, increased oversight and more regulations such as a requirement that the drug be grown in Montana. The ideas come from three meetings among those representing medical marijuana caregivers and patients, local government, law enforcement and schools.

Voters may have a chance to decide the issue again themselves.

Backers of an initiative to repeal the medical marijuana law altogether said Monday that they may have collected enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Election officials won’t know for sure until next month.

Montana voters handily approved the law themselves in 2004. But many feel voters did not envision the increasingly widespread use seen today.

“I think only a small percent of the medical marijuana cards are for people who need it,” said Cherrie Brady, proposing the new initiative to repeal the law. “Right now, it’s just madness. It’s all about money.”

Brady said a far-flung group of volunteers turned in signatures at Friday’s deadline, and she is not sure if enough were collected to get on the ballot. The group, which proposed the initiative late in the season, had to collect more than 24,000 signatures in a very short period of time.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has recently said that legalization of medical marijuana has not worked out as voters planned, and will be closely watching with interest suggestions brewing in the Legislature.

The industry and community panel is pitching plenty of ideas, although not all were supported by all involved:

— Creation of a statewide regulatory board paid for by licensing fees.

— Ban more people with criminal backgrounds from becoming caregivers.

— More sharply define chronic pain, a leading reason listed by people qualifying for medical marijuana cards.

— Allow cross-agency sharing of information from the marijuana registry to help enforcement.

— Require patients and caregivers to carry registry card.

— Set up penalties for falsifying card applications.

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