Patients Ask Judge to Block Great Falls Marijuana Ban

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Three medical marijuana patients are asking a judge to block a Great Falls ban on pot businesses, claiming the city has overstepped its authority and is keeping patients from receiving their legal medication.

Great Falls residents Algy Thain, David Sears and Kraig Jackson filed a complaint in state court Tuesday seeking an injunction that would prevent the law from taking effect on July 1.

The three plaintiffs say in their complaint that the new city ordinance won’t just banish commercial medical marijuana operations from the city, but it will also prevent them from growing their own medical marijuana plants.

Under Montana’s medical marijuana law, each patient can grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use.

The ordinance passed earlier this month by the city commission prohibits land in the city from being used in a way that violates federal, state or local law.

Federal law lists marijuana as an illegal drug, even though the Obama administration has said it would not prosecute medical marijuana cases when the patient is following state law.

Carl Jensen, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said Wednesday the new law effectively bans all marijuana cultivation within Great Falls, which conflicts with state law.

“In my mind, that’s a prohibition for growing medical marijuana by anybody. Whatever their intent was, the effect is a complete ban. that’s the way I read it,” Jensen said.

Montana’s cities and towns are testing different ways to regulate commercial medical marijuana growers while state legislators gather proposals to strengthen Montana’s medical marijuana law when they meet again in January. Great Falls, Kalispell and Helena are the largest cities that have outright bans on pot businesses operating within city limits.

Montanans for Responsible Legislation, a new organization dedicated to promoting access to medical marijuana, is funding the three plaintiffs’ lawsuit. Its head, Douglas Chyatte, said he hopes an injunction would set a precedent for other towns that have or are considering permanent bans.

“This is an issue of medical necessity,” Chyatte said.

A person must have a debilitating medical condition certified by a doctor in order to register as a medical marijuana patient with the state. There are approximately 17,000 medical marijuana users in Montana.

The complaint says Thain and Sears have HIV and Jackson suffers from joint degeneration that inhibits his mobility. A temporary moratorium in place since January has hindered their ability to get medical marijuana, but the permanent ban makes it worse, Jensen said.

Great Falls Mayor Michael Winters said he had no knowledge of the lawsuit and that it would be inappropriate for him to comment on pending litigation.

Montana is different from other states in that it has no medical marijuana dispensaries. Instead, each patient is required to designate a caregiver who provides that patient with medical pot.

There are more than 3,400 caregivers in Montana.