UPDATED: GOP-Led House Backs Medical Marijuana Repeal

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The Republican-led House backed full repeal Thursday of the state’s medical marijuana law, arguing it is time to undo the 2004 ballot initiative that spawned an industry few envisioned.

House Speaker Mike Milburn, carrying the measure himself, said medical marijuana use has gone far beyond what voters approved and argued it is too late to attempt to rein it in. He said the medical marijuana law has led to an abundance of the drug in attracting a criminal element and an illegal trade that has moved into schools and even beyond state borders.

“It is starting to undermine the entire fabric of our state,” Milburn told the House during floor debate. “It is time to take back our state and our culture and do what is best for Montana.”

The House approved the repeal bill mostly along party lines 63-37. It faces one more largely procedural vote in that chamber before going to the Senate, where it is expected to face a tougher road. Several Republicans in the Senate are openly backing the alternative of strict regulation of the industry.

House Democrats arguing against a full repeal of the medical marijuana law said it is wrong to completely get rid of a voter-approved initiative. They said the explosion of medical marijuana use over the past couple of years is the fault of the Legislature, which in several sessions since 2005, failed to implement any sort of regulation.

“We had many years to regulate what 62 percent of voters approved, and did nothing,” said Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Butte.

Democrats opposing the measure argue lawmakers should instead heavily regulate the industry, and leave repeal to voters if they so choose.

A measure drafted over the past year in an interim committee would regulate the business and make it far more difficult to get a “green card,” especially for those seeking one for the most common ailment of chronic pain. That proposal, which also would charge the industry more fees to pay for the regulation, has stalled in a House committee.

A Senate panel on Friday will be looking at a plan from Republican state Sen. Dave Lewis of Helena to raise about $16 million a year by taxing the industry to pay for far more intense regulation of the people who grow the medical marijuana and those who use it. This would include grants to local governments to deal with issues they face when dealing with the industry.

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.

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. But he has not proposed a solution either.

Overflow crowds have testified at the Legislature during hearings on the various bills this session, with citizens telling lawmakers to tread carefully in dealing with medical marijuana used by more than 30,000 Montanans.

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