Montana Lawmakers Pass Revised Medical Pot Bill

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Lawmakers passed a revised version of a medical marijuana overhaul bill Thursday after rejecting Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s amendment to allow 25 patients per pot provider and to let those providers make a profit.

Legislators in both chambers agreed to the governor’s changes increasing privacy rights for patients and procedural changes for accessing the drug. But after frenzied negotiation over the governor’s amendments to increase pot access, legislators decided to leave mostly intact the strict regulations included in the bill they passed Wednesday.

The measure will now go back to Schweitzer for his approval or veto.

Senate Bill 423 rewrites the state’s medical marijuana law and 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. The bill requires marijuana to be grown for free, on compassionate grounds.

It’s a major rewrite and one of the largest restrictions of a state’s marijuana law ever attempted in the nation.

In a 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.

Schweitzer’s rejected amendment would have loosened the tight restrictions in the bill that would keep marijuana providers from making a profit or having more than three patients each.

But lawmakers said they could not endorse increasing the number of patients per provider because the Department of Justice has made clear in letters sent to officials in several states that it will target large growing operations.

Montana’s marijuana businesses were recently the target of federal raids and the U.S. attorney for Montana issued warnings against marijuana businesses last week.

Legislators opted instead to include the governor’s changes to maintain the confidentiality of names on the state’s registry of patients. They also passed his changes to restrict the hours authorities can make an unannounced inspection of a pot growing operation.

Supporters of the final product said the measure was a necessary but imperfect solution.

“We may have gone too far but I think it’s time we bring this under control,” said Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup.

Opponents to the measure said the solution was unworkable and denies the drug to people in need.

Sen. Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula said it wouldn’t be possible for most people to bear the cost of running a grow operation for free.

Gov. Schweitzer compared the proposed system banning profits to communism.

“There is a guy who thought of that system first, his name was Karl Marx,” said Schweitzer. “That’s not what most of us think is the American way, that is, capitalism.”

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