Donations Drying Up for Group Suing Over Marijuana Law

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Advocates suing for the repeal of the restrictive medical marijuana law passed by Montana legislators last year say donations must pick up for it to continue with the lawsuit.

Montana Cannabis Industry Association president Chris Lindsey said Monday that the organization has no plans to drop the case, and there is enough money to see it through a Supreme Court hearing later this month. But the advocacy group needs medical marijuana providers to increase their support, he said.

“We wanted to emphasize to the folks benefiting from the lawsuit that there is no free lunch,” Lindsey said. “Those who remain, who we support 100 percent, there is a price tag associated with keeping them operating.”

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association is challenging the 2011 law that forbids the commercial sale of medical marijuana, makes it tougher to register as a user and imposes more regulations over doctors who recommend patients for the state registry.

The Republican-led Legislature passed the restrictions after Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed an outright repeal of the 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana law. Supporters of the new law say it was meant to rein an out-of-control industry.

A state judge has blocked portions of the law from taking effect, including the ban on profits from marijuana sales, and the Montana Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on that injunction on May 30.

Earlier this month, the MTCIA posted a notice on its website that says the organization can’t continue with the lawsuit at the rate that donations are flowing in. The organization estimates that it has already spent about $150,000 and the cost of keeping the suit going could run another $100,000.

“We cannot in good faith go forward with a lawsuit that we cannot pay for,” the notice said.

Lindsey said the notice was meant to instill a sense of urgency in the medical pot providers in the state.

The number of registered medical marijuana providers in Montana has dropped 91 percent since spring 2011, when the new law combined with a federal crackdown on providers resulted in many shops closing their doors.

The number of registered providers dropped from a peak of 4,848 to 414 today, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Those are the people Lindsey’s organization needs to keep afloat.

“The reduction in donations comes simply from the fact that we are operating at 10 percent of the numbers we had,” he said.

The organization’s focus on the lawsuit means it won’t be active in publicizing a referendum asking voters to repeal the marijuana law

The advocacy group was a sponsor of the initiative, which will be on the November ballot. Another sponsor, Patients for Reform — Not Repeal, is expected to lead the referendum campaign, Lindsey said.