The Montana Medical Marijuana Act, a voter approved initiative, passed in 2004. Then, in 2011, legislators passed the Montana Marijuana Act, which applied many restrictions to medical marijuana patients, providers, and recommending physicians, thereby making it difficult to participate in the program. As of January 2015, many of those restrictions have been banned by Judge James Reynolds, and as long as the Montana attorney general does not intervene, medical marijuana patients may soon have safer access to medication even though dispensaries are still illegal in the state.
The restrictions were approved during the legislative session in 2011 after the state saw a significant increase in medical marijuana patient registry card applications in 2009. According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Science, there were 2,000 registered medical marijuana patients in 2009. By May of 2011, there were over 31,000 active medical marijuana cardholders. Patients were forced to re-apply after the Montana Marijuana Act was enacted by legislators in 2011, and as of November 2014, there were fewer than 10,000 registered medical marijuana patients in the sate.
The Montana Marijuana Act of 2011 placed heavy restrictions on the state’s medical marijuana community. It banned any and all marijuana advertising. It also prohibited the commercial sale of medical marijuana to registered patients, which essentially meant patients were forced to cultivate at home if they wanted access to medication. Caregivers were permitted to operate under this provision. However they were not allowed to care for more than 3 patients at a time, and legally they were not permitted to accept any form of payment for the products and services provided.
This amendment also placed such hefty restrictions on recommending physicians that few to none would be willing to participate in the program. As of 2011, any physician who recommended medical marijuana to more than 25 patients, was required to pay, out of pocket, for a review of his or her practice by the Board of Medical Examiners.
As of January 2015, District Judge Reynolds ruled that these restrictions violate the equal protection clause, and banned the implementation of said restrictions. Judge Reynolds did not lift 2 of the restrictions put into place by legislators in 2011, however. The Department of Public Heath and Human Services and law enforcement are still permitted to commit surprise inspections of medical marijuana caregivers, and any person on probation still may not obtain a medical marijuana registry card.
The attorney representing the Montana Cannabis Industry Association in this case, James Goetz, told the Billings Gazette that he is happy with the decision, despite the two restrictions remaining in place. He explained,
“It’s a pretty complete victory for us. Those are two tangential provision that he upheld.”
It is unclear at this time whether Montana’s attorney general will appeal Judge Reynolds’ decision. If these restrictions remain banned in Montana, it will alleviate fears for patients, caregivers and prescribing physicians alike.