Medical Pot Backers Seek Stay on Montana Court Decision

Court agreed to delay enforcement of stringent new medical marijuana restrictions until August

By BOBBY CAINA CALVAN, Associated Press

HELENA — The Montana Cannabis Industry Association is asking a district judge to further delay enforcement of stringent new medicinal marijuana restrictions that are to go into effect Aug. 31.

The association on Tuesday filed a motion with Montana’s 1st Judicial District Court in Helena for a stay until the U.S. Supreme Court takes action on an appeal or until the November election, when a proposed initiative expanding access to medicinal marijuana could be decided by Montana voters. Backers say they have collected more than the 24,175 signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot, pending certification by elections officials.

In February, the state Supreme Court affirmed key provisions of a 2011 state law restricting medical marijuana providers from selling the drug to more than three patients. The court later agreed to delay enforcement until August, but soon after the cannabis association asked the federal high court to reverse the state court’s ruling.

In a petition filed in May with the nation’s high court, the association argues that the underpinnings of the state court’s February ruling mistakenly assumed that marijuana is universally illegal under federal law. The group says that rationale led the court to uphold provisions in the 2011 state law limiting the number of patients marijuana providers can serve.

The federal court has yet to announce whether it will hear the case. It could do so by the end of this month, when the court ends its current term — or wait until it reconvenes in October.

If the high court decides against taking up the case, medicinal marijuana backers argue that it would be prudent to delay enforcement until voters can weigh in on Initiative-182. If approved, the measure would lift the three-patient limit put in place by Senate Bill 423, establish licensing fees to pay for administering the program and include post-traumatic stress disorders among the conditions permissible for treatment using medicinal marijuana. It would also require providers to be licensed and their dispensaries to undergo yearly inspections.

Over the past nine weeks, the effort deployed 20 full-time field staff and some 100 volunteers to collect signatures. More than 22,000 signatures are being processed by county elections officials, said Morgan Marks the field director for the initiative. On Thursday, an additional 17,000 signatures will be submitted, Marks said.

Routinely, more signatures are submitted than the number required in case some names are disqualified.

The Attorney General’s Office said it would not oppose a stay until the U.S. Supreme Court acts on the appeal but would not agree to a delay until the November election.

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