HELENA – A plan to repeal Montana’s medical marijuana law appears headed for easy approval in the state House after Republicans who run the chamber made their support for undoing the six-year-old law clear on Friday.
The plan, from House Speaker Mike Milburn, would repeal the ballot initiative overwhelmingly adopted by voters in 2004. The Cascade Republican’s bill easily cleared the House Human Services Committee on a party line vote Friday.
Supporters of repeal argued the industry has gone far beyond what voters envisioned.
“This is an initiative that has gone horribly wrong,” said Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings. “This is not what the people voted for.”
Republicans hold a 68-32 majority in the House. Any measure that clears that chamber would have to go to the Montana Senate and then the governor’s desk.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer has said changes to the law are needed to deal with an unforeseen explosion in the industry, but has stopped short of calling for an outright repeal.
Minority Democrats in the Legislature argued in committee that the lawmakers should move forward a plan to fix the law with more self-funded regulation and stringent requirements for registering as a patient. They said an outright appeal should be left to voters.
“I have a rule that I don’t vote against anything that has been passed by the voters,” said Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Butte. “If we really want repeal, I think the voters should do it.”
Montana confidentiality laws prevent law enforcement from knowing the names of medical marijuana patients, their suppliers and their locations. Some towns and cities have banned medical marijuana businesses from operating within their jurisdiction because they don’t know whether the shops meet city codes or if they are too close to churches, schools or parks.
But the plan to repeal the measure, and even just to regulate it, has drawn overflow crowds who say lawmakers need to tread carefully in dealing with medical marijuana used by more than 30,000 Montanans.
Supporters of repeal countered that the cards are so easy to get that it often has nothing to do with medicinal purposes.
“It was not created to be an industry. It was created out of compassion,” said Smith. “If they want, they can come back with a bill to legalize marijuana. Because that is where we are headed now, and that is not what the people voted for.”
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