Montana’s medical marijuana community took a big hit today after a ruling from the Montana Supreme Court limited cannabis providers in the state to no more than three patients each. One of the most significant medical marijuana rollbacks attempted in the U.S. this decade, the decision will have untold negative consequences for the thousands of patients who rely on medical cannabis for maladies ranging from Crohn’s disease to seizure disorders.
Citing the period from 2008-2010, when the number of medical marijuana users in Montana rose from about 1,000 to more than 25,000 patients, the state’s ban seeks to severely limit commercial growth of the industry. The Supreme Court ruling – intended to curtail abuses perceived by the state as leading to a flourishing marijuana industry – says that it will restrict medical marijuana providers to “a three patient limit.”
In Bozeman, Cannabis dispensary owner Chris Fanuzzi remembers the ill-effects from the state mandate in 2011 to restrict medical cannabis use, “The last time they changed the law, the repercussions to Montanans – both financially and medically – were staggering. I’ve been preparing for this decision for four years.”
Though Montana voters approved medical marijuana with a 2004 voter initiative, the 2011 mandate, led by conservative lawmakers, set in motion events meant to inevitably push the Montana medical cannabis industry out of existence.
A majority of the roughly 4,000 dispensaries at the peak of the industry have now shuttered their doors since the 2011 mandate in fears that the tide has turned against legal medical marijuana.
According to the Billings Gazette, an opinion written by Justice Beth Baker reads that, “The Legislature determined that placing a limit on the number of registered cardholders a provider may assist serves the objectives of keeping marijuana away from large-scale manufacturing operations, making it less appealing to major traffickers.”
A confounding situation – not only because a majority of Montana’s citizens voted to legalize medical pot in 2004, but two states away in Colorado the state government there is dealing with the enviable position of how to spend the more than $120 million in taxes from 2015 cannabis sales.
The Montana Supreme Court commented that the 6-to-1 decision was a “rational response” by the state in the face of the drastic increase in medical marijuana. The only complete dissent came from Justice Mike Wheat, says KTVQ in Billings, who said the state went too far in curbing alleged abuses of the law and had restricted patients’ access to marijuana so severely that it “ultimately destroys the law’s purpose.”
For dispensary owner Fanuzzi’s part, he looks to continue providing patients with cannabis.
“It’s a shame because it means millions in lost tax revenues for Montana and patients’ rights lost,” he says, but adds with resolve. “I intend to follow state law and to continue providing quality medicine to qualified patients in need.”
What are your thoughts on rolling back medical marijuana laws in the U.S.?