|Reactions Mixed To Ruling on Medical Marijuana Law|
Posted by CN Staff on June 30, 2011 at 20:43:21 PT|
By Charles S. Johnson and Mike Dennison
Helena, MT -- Reactions were mixed Thursday to a district judge's ruling temporarily blocking parts of more stringent 2011 medical marijuana law from taking effect Friday.
Those in the medical marijuana business were pleased that District Judge James Reynolds of Helena issued a temporary injunction blocking parts of the new law.
However, they warned that the decision leaves them in a no-win situation during the transition. Caregivers go out of existence at midnight Thursday and become providers under the new law.
They had been seeking to temporarily block implementation of the entire law.
"The ruling basically completes what the Legislature wanted to do, which is to shut us all down," said Misty Carey, who owns a business in Bozeman providing medical marijuana to 200 patients. "As of midnight tonight (Thursday), no one who is a caregiver is a caregiver anymore. Patients have to reapply to have me listed as their caregiver (provider). I've had that take up to 13 weeks. I won't be able to survive that long."
James Goetz, the Bozeman lawyer representing the Montana Cannabis Industry Association and others challenging the law, agreed there are problems with the transition under the law and the ruling. He said he will contact the attorney general's office in hopes of working out some of the inconsistencies.
The association and other plaintiffs had been seeking a temporary injunction to give them time to gather enough signatures for a referendum to put the issue on the 2012 ballot and to get even more signatures to suspend the entire law until voters decide its fate.
"Overall, I'm quite pleased," Goetz said of the ruling. "The core issue, as I said in court, is the access to medical marijuana. I like to get everything. We got most of it. We got the key things."
In a statement from the state Justice Department under Attorney General Steve Bullock, which defended the law in court, spokeswoman Judy Beck said the agency is pleased that Reynolds didn't block the entire bill.
"Important provisions that should curb some of the worst abuses will become law," Beck said, "Based on an initial review of the decision, however, we are concerned about the potential consequences of allowing providers to grow and sell marijuana to an unlimited number of cardholders."
Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, who sponsored the law that was challenged, said he was disappointed that four sections were temporarily enjoined. He said it comes down to a fundamental decision over who should write state policy-the Legislature or courts.
"It is very important to note that this was a 35-section bill and most of the bill is moving forward and will be in effect," Essmann said.
One key provision that remains intact imposes much stronger restrictions for patients claiming "severe chronic pain" to obtain medical marijuana cards. Critics considered this one of the major loopholes in the 2004 law that allowed many people in their 20s to obtain medical marijuana cards.
Under the law, there must be objective proof from testing or a second physician's confirmation before someone claiming "severe chronic pain" can obtain a card.
"People shouldn't assume it is as it was before because that is not the case," Essmann said.
He said parts that stand also require two-physicians to certify that minors can get a medical marijuana card, prevent medical marijuana from being bought, sold or used in plain view, prohibit marijuana from being imported from out of state and stop physicians from being affiliated with medical marijuana providers and being paid by providers.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who had criticized Essmann's bill and let it become law without his signature, had no comment.
Monica Blanchard, a medical marijuana caregiver with 15 patients in Livingston, called the ruling "better than nothing" but said she had hoped Reynolds would enjoin the entire law.
"I'm surprised that he didn't just hold back the entire law until we can exercise our constitutional right to referendum on the law," she said.
House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, sponsored a bill to repeal the 2004 voter-passed medical marijuana law, but Schweitzer vetoed it. That led the Legislature to pass Essmann's bill, which was challenged.
Milburn was highly critical of Reynolds' ruling, saying, "This is unprecedented in what (the judge) is doing. He's trying to legislate from the bench and is putting out his own personal feeling on the law. He's totally trying to gut the law to where is unenforceable."
He said the bill was meant to severely restrict the use of medical marijuana, as envisioned by voters who adopted the law in 2004.
Sen. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula, a leading critic of Essmann's bill, said he supported greater restrictions and regulations on medical marijuana, but said the new law went "way too far."
"I'm a firm believer that any industry, particularly a health care industry, needs regulation," he said. "We weren't imagining an industry (when we passed the law). We made a mistake by not putting in regulations at that time."
Source: Missoulian (MT)
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