Governor Vetoes Repeal of Medical Marijuana Law

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have repealed Montana’s voter-approved medical marijuana law, saying it would have gone against the will of the people.

That left House and Senate conferees one last gasp at coming up with a compromise proposal to tighten regulation of the booming industry with eight working days left in the session.

Of the 15 states and the District of Columbia that have medical marijuana laws, almost all have struggled with how to adequately regulate a drug that the federal government deems dangerous and addictive but said it would not prosecute as long as users follow state law.

But the Montana Legislature took the unusual step last week of passing a bill sponsored by House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, to completely overturn the 2004 ballot initiative that was approved by Montana voters.

Milburn and other Republican legislative leaders say the drug cannot be regulated safely because the drug attracts criminal gangs and addicts the state’s youth.

Schweitzer announced his veto of the repeal bill on the Capitol steps along with 16 others he called “frivolous, unconstitutional or in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people of Montana.”

Schweitzer said he agreed the medical marijuana law was written broadly with unanticipated results, but that had to be balanced with the medical needs of Montanans.

“I believe the proper resolution of this unanticipated outcome is not outright repeal, but amendment to serve the original intent,” he said.

Many Democrats and a few Republicans have said the marijuana industry needs to be regulated, not done away with, and that there is a legitimate need for people to have access to the drug.

Leaders from both parties say something needs to be done to rein in the state’s sprawling medical marijuana industry that now has over 28,000 legal marijuana users.

A measure to overhaul the medical marijuana industry by ratcheting up restrictions on the drug was sent to a committee of senators and republicans Wednesday to determine the final version of the bill.

It may be this Legislature’s last chance of acting on the issue with the end of the session drawing near.

Senate Bill 423, carried by Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, had a tumultuous passage through the Legislature. The last minute regulation bill was amended and rewritten several times and in the end, the Senate and House passed two entirely different versions of the proposal.

Essmann said the governor’s veto of repeal would increase the pressure for lawmakers to compromise and pass an overhaul.

“We need to come to a resolution on this issue.” he said.

The committee of lawmakers from both chambers will meet over the next few days to try and hash out the differences between the measures.

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