Horse Sense: Medical Marijuana Issue Hazy 
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Horse Sense: Medical Marijuana Issue Hazy 
Posted by CN Staff on February 12, 2011 at 15:56:37 PT
By Charles S. Johnson, Gazette State Bureau
Source: Billings Gazette
Helena, MT --  With the Legislature nearing its halfway point, three approaches to addressing Montana's booming medical marijuana are in play, but it's unclear which will ultimately pass. One would repeal the medical marijuana law altogether on July 1.Another would to tighten the law to such an extent that only a fraction of the current 28,300 cardholders could qualify for medical pot in the future. This also would put many caregivers and legal marijuana growers out of business.
The third approach is to acknowledge that the medical marijuana industry exists in Montana, crack down on some past abuses and establish for the first time a comprehensive licensing and regulatory system for the industry.No one is certain yet which, if any, approach can make it through both the legislative houses and get Gov. Brian Schweitzer's signature. Schweitzer isn't taking any position until the bills reach his desk.The repeal approach received a significant boost last week. The House voted 63-37 for House Bill 61, by House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, to repeal the law. It went to the House Appropriations Committee and is expected to return on the House floor for a final approval, possibly this week. It will then go to the Senate, where the prospects are uncertain.Milburn said he's encouraged his bill is "gaining momentum every day" from lawmakers from both sides.But Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, who led the opposition to Milburn's bill, said there's a real possibility the Senate will reject the repeal bill because they don't want to override the will of the 62 percent of the voters who supported legalization of medical marijuana in 2004.The second approach is to really clamp down on who's eligible for medical marijuana cards, thus also choking off the numbers of caregivers and growers. Backers believe this would return the law to what people in their districts thought they were voting for -- a limited means to help only terminally and very seriously ill people.One bill is HB429, by Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, which he hopes would restrict the number of medical marijuana cardholders to several hundred patients statewide. He would require physicians to validate that they have used other sources of pain medicine on these patients without success, and district judges to issue affidavits. These patients could grow their own medical marijuana or have caregivers grow it for them. But caregivers couldn't grow medical pot for more than one patient unless they're raising it for patients who are relatives.HB429 is expected to vote on by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. House Republicans regard it as a backup in case Milburn's repeal.SB170, by Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, awaits a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would tighten restrictions on those obtaining medical marijuana cards for severe and chronic pain by requiring a three-physician team to endorse the original doctor's recommendation. Patients claiming extreme and chronic pain now account for more than 74 percent of all cardholders, or 21,000 patients.Finally, there are the bills that acknowledge that medical marijuana is a business or industry in Montana and would erect the regulatory and licensing sideboards that are now lacking. Supporters say this is a realistic and necessary approach, while opponents say it institutionalizes the medical marijuana, like gambling, and makes it hard to get rid of.Sands' HB68, the product of an interim legislative committee, is expected to be voted on this week in House Human Services Committee. It proposes a comprehensive licensing and regulatory system that is supported by law enforcement, local governments and some in the medical marijuana industry.Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, has SB154, which originally was a measure to regulate the industry and levy a 10 percent tax on growers. After funding regulatory costs, Lewis would have split the considerable proceeds between local governments and programs for the elderly.However, his bill underwent a strange metamorphosis at a hearing Friday. Lewis let the state medical marijuana growers' association rewrite his bill to insert its own recommendations, along with portions of Lewis' and Sands' original bills in what was called a "gray bill." It dropped the tax, leaving considerably less money for seniors and local governments.Lewis told the Senate Judiciary Committee: "My guess was that the committee would be struggling with trying to merge from the interim committee, and I wanted to make this available."Lewis' surprise move split the various elements of the medical marijuana industry and left legislators perplexed."I'm totally opposed to Lewis' bill as rewritten," Milburn said."With 63 in the House voting for a total repeal, I think it's very unlikely that a bill like the gray bill that was presented that institutionalizes the business model is going to have any prospect of passing there," Essmann said.So what happens if there's an impasse and no bills can pass both chambers and be signed by Schweitzer?Milburn said it's possible that a subcommittee or special committee will be formed to work on the issue. Another possibility is that a conference committee will have iron out House and Senate differences.Another possibility, he said, is HB175, by Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, which would submit a repeal of the medical marijuana law to voters in November 2012.And there is the Billings group, Safe Communities, Safe Kids, whose leader has vowed that its members will put a repeal measure on the ballot in 2012 if they don't like what the Legislature does. The same group collected more than 19,000 signatures for a 2010 repeal initiative in a week last year, but fell 5,000 names short.What, if anything, will happen with medical marijuana this session is hazy at this point.Source: Billings Gazette, The (MT)Author: Charles S. Johnson, Gazette State Bureau Published:  February 12, 2011Copyright: 2011 The Billings GazetteContact: speakup billingsgazette.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives 
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on February 13, 2011 at 17:42:03 PT
I agree with you about Republicans. I honestly can't understand how everyone doesn't see it too.
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Comment #2 posted by schmeff on February 13, 2011 at 14:19:38 PT
Republicons want smaller government - NOT
Notice how the lawmakers with 'R' after their titles want to get government into our lives to such an extent that our doctors will be required to be second-guessed by a team of three other doctors, or have their decisions reviewed by a 'team' and then have district judges issue affidavits in order to use medicine. Milburn wants government so large it can simply invalidate the will of the voters.Do Montaniacs have to get government issued affidavits and be forced to pay the salaries of FOUR doctors to get other, more dangerous and addictive poisons from the pharmaceutical industry?
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Comment #1 posted by josephlacerenza on February 12, 2011 at 20:45:36 PT:
It All Comes Down to Dollars and Cents
I have talked with a few of the store / dispensary owners in Montana, The State will have to pay them to go away. In other words, these people, the owners, are in it too deep to see it all go away.There appears to be some real movement to find a middle ground. The politicians do not want to loose their jobs, and neither do their constituency.
Montana Biotech Potency Analysis, Genetic Screening of Cannabis in Montana
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