With so many disparate groups pointing out the inadequacies of Montana's medical marijuana law and offering suggestions for improvement during Tuesday's interim committee hearing in Helena, it's difficult to get a sense of which way the political winds are blowing eight months before the 2011 legislative session begins. All that's clear is that the law will very likely change one way or another.
For a somewhat different account of the hearing, read former Indy reporter and current Great Falls Tribune Capitol Bureau Chief John S. Adams' piece. Adams covers what's perhaps the most interesting tidbit to come from the hearing—that Montana NORML plans to push a bill next year that would legalize marijuana in the state.
John Masterson, of the Montana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told lawmakers that they will not be able to solve the problems raised at Tuesday's hearing unless they legalize, tax and regulate marijuana use for all adults in the state. Masterson said a legal market for adults solves many of the problems stemming from the current law "and acknowledges the scientific fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol, safer than cigarettes, safer than almost all over-the-counter drugs."
"We already have a working infrastructure for how we might tax and regulate marijuana for all adults in our beer and brewery system," Masterson said. "It allows limited production at home for adults; it involves licensed producers and licensed retailers who are responsible for age verification."
Masterson told the committee that legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana could net the state an estimated $24 million annually in tax revenues.
Masterson said after the hearing that Montana NORML plans to support a tax and regulation bill in the next session.
The Missoulian's Betsy Cohen fleshed out Masterson's thoughts a bit more in a Tuesday story previewing the hearing.
The AP focused on another nugget coming out of the hearing—the Montana Board of Medical Examiners plans to crack down on mass medical marijuana screenings, like those conducted by, most notably, Montana Caregivers Network.
A Montana Board of Medical Examiners review suggests people are being added to the state's medical marijuana registry who do not suffer from the chronic and debilitating conditions that are required for certification, Dr. Dean Center, a Bozeman physician and board member, told state lawmakers Tuesday.
"As everyone knows, the number of people being certified has just exploded," Center said. "The entrepreneurial spirit has taken hold."
Under scrutiny are clinics hosted by medical marijuana advocates that travel across the state with doctors who spend just a few minutes screening hundreds of potential patients. Then there are out-of-state physicians involved in medical marijuana screenings, sometimes using teleconferences or videoconferences to diagnose patients as having a qualifying condition. ...
The medical board is preparing a position statement on adequate evaluation and monitoring of patients with chronic and debilitating illnesses. The statement that "will likely affect the process of mass screenings and may preclude remote electronic method of evaluation without some sort of modification or adjustment," Center said.
The committee, led by Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, plans to host a stakeholder meeting in the coming weeks to try to develop consensus recommendations for how to improve Montana's medical marijuana law. The committee will consider those recommendations at its June meeting.
Montana has more than 12,000 registered medical marijuana patients, according to the state's latest count (PDF).