Montana Medical Marijuana Program Continues To Shrink
Montana once had a very good medical marijuana program. My best friend moved to Montana in around 2008, and when he first arrived there, the available marijuana left a lot to be desired. It looked like mid-grade outdoor marijuana, and cost 350-400 per ounce. My best friend was a medical marijuana patient in Oregon, so needless to say, the new scenario he was in was very harsh to him. Every time he would come back to Oregon to visit, he would get as much Oregon marijuana as he could get his hands on, and mumble about how bad things are in Montana in regards to marijuana quality and availability.
My best friend served a 15 month tour in Iraq, and I can say first hand that he needs his medical marijuana for various ailments and conditions he acquired while serving our country. These are ailments and conditions that he had been taking quite a bit of pharmaceuticals for, which were having all kinds of side effects on his body. When he smoked medical marijuana, it alleviated his ailments and conditions better than any other medication.
Montana has had a medical marijuana program for years, but there weren’t that many doctor’s that were willing to prescribe it. As a result of low access to the program, not that many people were enrolled in it, such as my best friend. That all changed when the Montana Caregivers Network started to pump out medical marijuana clinic across the state at the end of the last decade. Montana’s medical marijuana program took off like a rocket, and people like my best friend were finally able to legally medicate in Montana. Things got even better when dispensaries, clubs, and collectives started to pop up across the state. Medical marijuana quality increased dramatically, as did access to it.
Pretty soon, my same friend that was loading up on Oregon marijuana to take to Montana was bringing over marijuana from Montana to show me. It was about 200 per ounce, and was of the same quality as what I had been smoking on at the time. The transformation was mind blowing to be honest. In such a little amount of time Montana went from a wasteland for marijuana to a great place to find it. That all changed when the 2011 Legislature passed Senate Bill 423, which has crippled the program. Since Senate Bill 423 took effect in July 2011, the number of Montana medical marijuana patients has been cut in half, and the number of medical marijuana caregivers has been reduced by over 90%.
“Senate Bill 423 certainly had an impact,” said Roy Kemp, the chief medical marijuana regulator in the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. “Federal activities certainly have had an impact. The bill made it very difficult for providers to enter the field, as it were. We’re losing about 51 percent of renewals. That seems to be the trend. If that trend continues, we’ll end up with 12,000-13,000 (cardholders) by May.”
“The federal raids have terrified so many legitimate providers that are otherwise law-abiding providers, who are closing their doors all over the place,” said John Masterson of Missoula, who is the Executive Director of Montana NORML. “It’s important to note that all providers are not created equal. There were a handful with warehouses with an agricultural crop grown indoors with a wholesale business. These folks, whether they are consuming it to address a serious medical condition or to enhance their lives or to relax after a hard day’s work, generally speaking, they’re going to do so whether there’s a state-sanctioned program or not.”
Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann (R-Billings) was the sponsor of Montana SB 423. He explains the two major changes that came out of the legislation. “First, he said, the law imposed stricter requirements for people to obtain a doctor’s recommendation for “severe or chronic pain,” which had become by far the most common reason cited by people to obtain medical marijuana cards. The law also tightened medical standards for those physicians who recommended medical marijuana to many patients.”
Last year opponents of Montana SB 423 gathered over 36,000 signatures to place a referendum vote on the fall ballot. At least this way the State of Montana can vote on the issue democratically, instead of the legislature forcing it’s will on the people. The voters approved medical marijuana in Montana. The same process should occur to change it. From what my best friend tells me, things are ‘back to the black market’ in Montana in regards to marijuana quality and access. Last time he was here he picked up a couple of Oregon’s finest ounces…a sign of the times I suppose.