If marijuana treats glaucoma, maybe it can cure House Speaker Mike Milburn's myopia, too.
The Republican legislator from Cascade crows about how repealing Montana's Medical Marijuana Act, as he's proposing, would add about $263,000 to the state's general fund in FY 2012. But he apparently can't see beyond next year. If he could, he'd notice that bill, which passed the House last week and is scheduled for a Senate hearing on Mar. 11, would cost the state $317,000 in 2013, $479,000 in 2014, and $497,000 in 2015, according to legislative number crunchers.
The bill costs the state money by turning patients into criminals. The Department of Corrections reports that repealing the Medical Marijuana Program would reverse the recent decline in drug-related convictions, leading to, it estimates, 45 more drug possession convictions and 15 more distribution convictions annually. More Montanans under state supervision would exacerbate the Department of Correction's shaky fiscal situation. Communications Director Bob Anez says the Legislature has reduced the department's budget request by $16 million, or 4.6 percent. That request was based on existing conviction trends, "and a change in those trends, whatever the reason might be, would always be problematic for us in dealing with the additional offenders," Anez says.
Meanwhile, a proposal to further regulate and assess fees on the medical marijuana industry, House Bill 68—the languishing effort that Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, spent six months crafting with an interim committee—would generate millions. In FY 2012 it would add $664,000 to the state's general fund. Over the following three years it would add $10.8 million.
So much for the GOP being the party of fiscal responsibility. Evidently new revenues don't factor into Republicans' budget-balancing objectives.
But clearly it's not the budget, nor the "more jobs" mantra, driving the Republican agenda this legislative session. Instead, they're seeking to consolidate power where they've got it—at the state level. Some bills seek to nullify federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act. Others seek to trump local laws—like Missoula's anti-discrimination ordinance. In the case of medical marijuana, Republicans want to overrule the voters themselves.
To be sure, some of the state's 28,000 patients and 5,000 caregivers have abused the Medical Marijuana Act and probably deserve to be making license plates at Deer Lodge. But there are legitimate patients, and to criminalize them would be shameful—and a foolish fiscal move, no matter what the shortsighted Milburn says.