Despite being disappointed with the language of the bill, it appears that Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is not upset enough to veto the final version of S.B. 423, which would destroy the burgeoning medical marijuana industry, force patients to go to the illicit market, and make it extremely difficult for patients to qualify for the program.
On April 30, Gov. Schweitzer announced that while he was not pleased that the legislature had ignored most of the amendments he suggested when he first sent the bill back to them, he felt that it would be better to pass S.B. 423 than leave the status quo. He said he will let the bill become law without signing or vetoing it. He still has time to change his mind, however.
Under S.B. 423, larger marijuana-growing operations and all dispensaries must shut down by July 1. Patients will have to grow their own or obtain it for free from a provider who can grow for up to three people. In addition, doctors who certify 25 patients will have to pay for an investigation into their practices.
Patients and Families United plans to launch a statewide referendum campaign soon and will need help from far and wide. If enough signatures are gathered with the required geographic distribution, S.B. 423 might be prevented from taking effect prior to putting it before voters in November 2012.
Gov. Schweitzer should be commended for vetoing the bill to completely repeal the medical marijuana law and for attempting to get the legislature to amend the current bill in a reasonable fashion. He shouldn’t give up now. S.B. 423 is bad for patients, doctors, and businesses. It will put many Montanans out of work and many more sick people back in pain. And instead of creating a regulated, controlled system for distribution, it will have the opposite effect from what the legislators intended, specifically driving patients into the hands of illicit drug dealers.
In a great show of respect for the will of the voters in Montana, Gov. Schweitzer vetoed H.B. 161, the bill that would have repealed Montana’s medical marijuana law. That law, which was approved by a large majority of voters in 2004, has come under criticism lately, and overzealous lawmakers are doing everything they can to gut or eliminate the program.
While this is a wonderful sign of support from the governor, medical marijuana patients and businesses are still at risk. The legislature is currently considering another bill that would seriously damage the ability of patients to access their medicine, and would destroy the legitimate medical marijuana industry that has emerged in Montana. S.B. 423, and especially the House version of the bill, would add to the already staggering unemployment rate in Montana and would effectively send patients back to criminal organizations to get their medicine. It would also severely limit the number of patients for whom a caregiver can grow marijuana.
Hopefully, the Senate will reject the House’s version of “repeal lite” and insist on a more compassionate proposal. Even if the Senate rejects the House’s unworkable bill, though, the Senate version was also too onerous and unworkable, especially for pain patients. Patients will likely need to rely on the governor to see the error in this bill as well, and suggest reasonable regulations for Montana’s medical marijuana industry that do not hurt patients or their caregivers.