As we head into the New Year, lawmakers around the country are trying to decide what to do when it comes to marijuana laws, and in the state of Montana that could potentially be a bad thing. Initiative 182, which passed in the November election, sought to restore the medical marijuana program, allowing thousands to regain access to much needed medicine – but the effective date was misprinted from an earlier draft of the initiative, causing some concern that the changes would not go into effect until July.
Luckily, after the issue was brought to court shortly after the passing of the measure, District Court Judge James Reynolds ruled that the part of the measure limiting medical marijuana providers to three patients should be lifted immediately – which has effectively allowed thousands of patients to reinstate their medical marijuana application with the state to get issued a new ID card and register to a provider. Within just the first week after the judge’s ruling on December 7th there were already 1300 applications for medical marijuana cardholders – 70% looking to change providers or get a new card and the other 30% being new patients.
“We certainly have seen an increase in workload with change request orders and new cardholder applications,” said DPHHS public information officer Jon Ebelt. “So far the applications are coming in at a steady pace, but we’ve been able to keep up with it.”
With things finally well underway, lawmakers are already making plans for moving into the 2017 legislative session where some will attempt to make the industry more clear-cut, while others will likely attempt to repeal the entire program once again (as happened in 2011 when the 2004 voter-passed law was changed to severely limit patients, leading us to where we are now). There is talk of including things like plant testing, which makes the medicine safer for patients to consume, increasing the number of years someone must be a resident before becoming a provider and actually increasing the plant-per-patient limit.
The biggest issued being discussed right now is whether or not the state should impose a 6% tax on medical marijuana – there are some who are all for it and likely many more who are against it. Many will argue that medicines are not ordinarily taxed, so why should medical marijuana – on the other hand you then have those who say it is a federally illegal substance, not FDA approved and should therefore not be considered “medicine” for tax purposes, but it all seems to boil down to your point of view.
“Taxing medications — especially when we have no other example of a taxed medication in Montana — to put money in the general fund, I don’t agree with that,” McCarthy said.
Hopefully lawmakers can come to some sort of compromise on most of these issues – raising the plant-per-patient limit and routine lab testing is definitely a start and a nice change from limiting caregivers to only three patients and leaving thousands without medicine. At this point it doesn’t appear that anyone has attempted to actually move forward with any of these ideas – they are merely suggestions and thoughts on the table – but things are likely to be considered more during the upcoming legislative session early next year.