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 Schweitzer vetoed H.B. 161, the bill that would have repealed Montana’s medical marijuana law.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.
Last week, the House Human Services Committee, ignoring the will of the people, took the imperfect S.B. 423 and made it completely unworkable. Committee Chairman Dave Howard called medical marijuana a “scourge” and tried to get the bill as close to repeal as possible. We expect a full House vote as early as Monday, April 11.
So what exactly is going on in Montana? First, there was the initial push for repeal with H.B. 161. That bill stalled in the Senate, but was immediately followed by a rash of federal raids on medical marijuana businesses, which whipped the legislature into a frenzy to do something, anything, about this medical marijuana “scourge.” With full repeal supposedly off the table, S.B. 423 moved forward, which would have restricted the rights of patients severely and eliminated most medical marijuana businesses. When the legislature couldn’t agree on that, the full repeal bill reared its ugly head again. This time, it was approved by both the Senate and the House.
Now, Montana lawmakers are concerned that Gov. Schweitzer might veto the repeal bill, and are pushing an even stricter version of S.B. 423 toward his desk, just in case.
The bottom line is that everything comes down to Gov. Schweitzer. Since it is obvious that the legislature as a whole can’t decide on a humane and reasonable solution to the alleged problems in Montana’s system, we must ask the governor to support the will of the voters, by rejecting repeal of the medical marijuana law and proposing amendments that do not strip it of its substance.