Medicine & Money

The Big Business of Buds in The Hands of the Voters

by Angie Ripple  |  Friday Apr. 1st, 2016

You may have noticed that our medical marijuana advertising has been removed from this issue. It is not because we decided not to allow these businesses to advertise with us; it is because on February 25, 2016, the Montana Supreme Court upheld restrictions placed on medical marijuana by the 2011 legislature including a ban on all advertising. Not only does this disrupt our business at Bozeman Magazine, it more importantly disrupts the businesses of thousands of medical marijuana providers, caretakers and most importantly their patients. Created in 2011, SB423 also limits medical marijuana (MMJ) providers to only three patients with no allowance for cohabitation, thus preventing co-ops and multi-provider businesses. It also prohibits any grow larger than 12 flowering plants in any location, and limits doctors to prescriptions for only 25 patients. All provisions severely cripple MMJ businesses and result in severe financial consequences for doctors, providers and many other related businesses.

In 2004 Montana voters passed ballot initiative I-148 which in turn created a medical marijuana program for patients with debilitating medical conditions. The law was passed with a 61% majority vote, but the initiative had no real guidelines or regulations for providers to follow. In 2009 doctors began travelling the state in order to sign more people needing the benefits of MMJ up for state issued medical cards. The  number of Montanans willing to let the governing bodies know that marijuana was a viable medical option for them and their particular medical conditions grew and got the attention of lawmakers who in turn became worried about the increased use of MMJ. In 2011, when repeal of the bill was vetoed by Governor Brian Schweitzer, Senate Bill 423 was created and passed by the Montana Legislature. SB423 repealed I-148, enacting a new medical marijuana program with strict guidelines including those mentioned earlier. A legal battle ensued between the State and MMJ providers which led to an injunction allowing providers to continue to advertise, gain more patients, accept money for the MMJ provided, and allow doctors to continue to prescribe MMJ. In late February 2016 the Montana Supreme Court did away with the injunction and reinstated SB423 in its entirety, essentially putting MMJ providers out of business and denying 13,594 patients of their medicine.

Job creation is a hot political topic, and yet, 476 Montana businesses have been put on hold affecting the jobs of thousands of Montanans. Compounded with the loss of revenue to all of the peripheral businesses that have been providing services to this industry many more jobs are on the line. All while legislation approved by a majority of Montana voters is debated.

Let’s take a look at Colorado for a minute and see if we can make any sense of why we are going backward instead of forward on this issue. According to the State of Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment the total number of current, active MMJ patients in Colorado is 108,675 with a combined average age of all patients at 42.5 years old. In the first year of legalized marijuana in Colorado retail and medical weed generated more than $60 million in tax and licensing revenue for the state. Not only has the cost of enforcing its former marijuana laws decreased, the tax benefit to schools has increased dramatically. Of course not every facet of legalization in Colorado has been without obstacles, but many expected consequences (including accessibility to teenagers) haven’t been as much of an issue as expected. Colorado has created a very stringent and proactive plan for providers to abide by, which has been working, and is keeping the residents of Colorado gainfully employed at the same time.

Even the creators of the SafeMontana sponsored I-176 ballot initiative which establishes a state law that drugs listed on Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act now or in the future would be illegal in Montana admits they are NOT strictly opposed to the medicinalization of marijuana. Initiative I-176 does however repeal the Montana Marijuana Act and by signing the SafeMontana petition you are putting fuel on the fire toward prohibition of marijuana in Montana. If 24,175 signatures are collected for this initiative it will appear on the November ballot for all registered voters to vote on.

Two additional initiative campaigns are also collecting signatures, both would put the legalization of marijuana on the November ballot in the state of Montana. CI-115 would amend the Montana State Constitution to allow adult use of cannabis. The Montana State Constitution already allows the adult use of alcohol, a drug known to have caused 92 fatalities in Montana last year equalling 40.2% of all total traffic deaths in our state, while 0 marijuana fatalities have been reported in Montana. This initiative needs 10% of at least 40 legislative representative districts and a total of 48,349 signatures to appear on the November ballot.

I-178 would legalize marijuana without amending the Montana State Constitution and would collect a 20% tax on sales to be added into the state general fund, half of which is spent on education. It is estimated that $37 million would be collected in a five year period and $10.9 million would be saved on investigation and drug enforcement. 24,175 signatures are needed for this initiative to reach the November ballot, 242 in 34 districts.

UPDATE: Initiative I-182 was released mid April 2016, the purpose of the initiative would be to keep medical marijuana in Montana. Montana is one of 23 states with medical marijuana, while four states have legal recreational marijuana. The initiative does not repeal the prohibition on advertising. Section 19 says persons may not advertise marijuana or marijuana related products in any medium, including electronic media.

Signatures for all initiatives are due at 5pm on June 17. For more info about CI-115 and I-178, visit www.420406.org or join the Cycling for Sensible Drug Policy group on Facebook. To see Montanan's affected my MMJ go to Faces of Montana.

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