Governor’s Office, Lawmakers Hold Marijuana Talks

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The governor’s office and legislative leaders were negotiating possible changes to a proposed medical marijuana overhaul Thursday, hours before the Legislature was expected to adjourn.

Vivian Hammill, Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s chief of staff, met with five lawmakers to discuss the Democratic governor’s recommended changes to the bill approved Wednesday by the Legislature.

Senate Bill 423 rewrites the state’s medical marijuana law, which aims to significantly reduce the number of marijuana users and eliminate pot businesses in a state with nearly 30,000 users and a booming marijuana trade.

In a draft letter to the Senate president, Schweitzer said he was disappointed with SB423 in its current form, saying the bill had unconstitutional provisions and that he feared the limited access in the overhaul would drive patients to the illegal market for marijuana. The proposed amendments would significantly increase access to the drug from the stringent regulation.

Hammill also raised concerns about how difficult it would be for growers to start up operations under the proposed law.

Schweitzer’s proposed amendments include increasing the number of allowed marijuana users per provider from three to 25 and allowing providers to charge for the drug and make a profit.

Under the current version, providers must give marijuana to patients for free, on compassionate grounds.

The governor’s amendments also would increase the number of medical marijuana patients a doctor can certify before being put under review by authorities from 15 to 50 over a year.

Schweitzer also was seeking to maintain the confidentiality of patient names on the state’s registry, which the bill would allow law enforcement agencies to access. He said the provisions ignore constitutional privacy protections by allowing law enforcement unlimited access to Montanans’ lives.

Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R- Billings, who is involved in the discussions, described the amendments as a mix of major and minor rewrites to the bill, some of which might be acceptable. He declined to specify which.

Lawmakers have not yet transmitted the measure to Schweitzer. The Legislature is expected to adjourn by the end of Thursday, meaning lawmakers will have to act quickly on any changes if a deal is struck.

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