Advocates Back Loosening Medical Pot Restrictions

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Montana medical marijuana advocates are backing legislation that would reverse some of the restrictions passed two years ago and even allow an expansion in some areas.

Senate Bill 377 sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula may face long odds in passing. The Legislature so far has killed six other bills that sought to amend the 2011 law intended to make it harder for people to get medical marijuana cards and eliminate providers’ profits.

Montana voters decided in a November referendum to keep the restrictions.

Wanzenreid said the current law is unworkable and his bill resolves many of the issues that are now subject of a lawsuit filed by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.

“This is an issue that doesn’t go away,” Wanzenried told Lee Newspapers of Montana. “The litigation is costing taxpayers.”

The bill would create “cannabis exchange brokers” and couriers to transfer marijuana and plants. It would expand the qualifying conditions to include post-traumatic stress disorder and allow cardholders to possess more marijuana than is currently allowed.

It also would allow physicians’ assistants to recommend marijuana cards to patients, loosen the ban on smoking medical pot in public and eliminate the requirements that potential providers supply their fingerprints for background checks.

Nathan Pierce of Billings, executive director of the Montana Coalition for Rights, said the bill he helped work on would put into place the regulatory structure that voters have sought, while raising “much-needed” revenues through fees.

“Both of Montana’s major political parties campaigned on a promise to not only support medical marijuana, but to find a workable and realistic regulatory structure,” Pierce said.

The 2011 law was intended to make it harder for people to get medical marijuana cards and eliminate profits from providers of the drug. District Judge James Reynolds of Helena has temporarily blocked some provisions from being enforced while the lawsuit against the new law is being heard.

The blocked sections include the law’s restriction on a provider furnishing medical pot to more than three cardholders and its ban preventing providers from being paid.

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