Tuesday, July 13, 2010

City reverses medical marijuana ban near schools

Posted By on Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 11:55 AM

All that hubbub about Missoula banning medical marijuana businesses within 1,000 feet of schools?

Mike Barton, OPG's interim director, says never mind.

Missoula has decided not to ban medical marijuana businesses under the state law that bans the distribution of dangerous drugs within 1,000 feet of schools.
  • Chad Harder
  • Missoula has decided not to prohibit medical marijuana businesses under the state law that bans the distribution of dangerous drugs within 1,000 feet of schools.
"I had misinterpreted [Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent's] indication that the Medical Marijuana Act did not exempt caregivers from the safe schools legislation to mean that they could not operate within 1000 feet of elementary or secondary schools," Barton tells the Indy. "Jim's counsel was actually a warning to caregivers that an inadvertent violation of the Safe Schools Act could result in severe penalties that include mandatory prison sentences. As a result of the clarification, OPG will not be restricting medical marijuana operations based on proximity to schools."

We figured this would be the outcome after speaking with Nugent yesterday. He made clear that the map he had OPG make was intended to caution caregivers about the legal risks of setting up "cannabusinesses" near schools, not to ban the businesses.

“The [state] statute doesn’t actually have any exception in it [for medical marijuana], and we don’t know how it’s going to be enforced,” Nugent says. “There are no court rulings yet. There’s no formal opinion from the attorney general yet. It’s an ambiguous area, and so we’ve just been cautioning people. ‘Be aware that there’s some ambiguity here. You might not want to be exposed. You might want to stay outside the 1,000-foot radius.’”

Great Falls-based attorney Carl Jensen, for one, who specializes in medical marijuana and has lectured at clinics operated by Montana Caregivers Network, says Nugent is right, and that caregivers would be wise to not test the law.

“I would advise a client to stay out of those zones, simply because when you’re in those zones you’re taking a risk, no matter what,” Jensen says. “It’s one thing to believe that something is probably fine legally, it’s another thing to be the guy who has to pay an attorney $5,000 or $10,000 to find out whether that assumption is actually correct.”

In addition to the school buffer zones, OPG also sought to regulate medical marijuana businesses operating out of homes. OPG ruled on June 25 that such a business can serve no more than three patients. That policy, too, is being reversed. Barton now says it's "unnecessary."

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