Montana’s medical marijuana patients need all the help they can get. So it was a relief to see about 25 of them get a long-deserved dose of social support and camaraderie at a gathering of the first statewide group dedicated to medical marijuana patients’ welfare.

Tom Daubert, founder of Patients & Families United, organized the afternoon-long oasis for patients and supporters in Missoula April 22. The event drew medical marijuana patients from Hamilton, Kalispell, Helena and Missoula, most of who had never met. It also hinged on special guests from California, Angel Raich and Debby Goldsberry, two prominent leaders in the national medical marijuana movement who offered guidance and encouragement to their Montanan counterparts.

In a comfortable space where patients could openly medicate, flanked by a spread of food and drink, the patients shared stories of their health-care nightmares, the relief they’ve found since Montana passed its 2004 medical marijuana law, and the frustrations they still face today. One patient who struggles to find a supply told of her mortifying experiences trying to score in back alleys; another told of being targeted by small-town police who don’t respect state law. Many patients spoke about their exasperation over searching for doctors who don’t just pump them full of hard-core, ineffective prescriptions out of reluctance to recommend medical marijuana.

It was clear—hearing from vitally ill patients now struggling to face stigmas, prosecution and bureaucratic blips—that Montana has a long way to go before medical marijuana patients can rest easy.

But it wasn’t all discouraging.

Raich, the terminally ill patient who unsuccessfully sued the federal government over its harassment of California patients, congratulated Montanans for coming together, urging them to stand strong and learn from others’ experiences.

“I really think Montana patients can learn a lot from California because we’ve really scraped our knees as we’ve implemented our law,” she said, speaking in a vibrant tone that defied her illness. Raich’s words resonated with the Montana patients, who pledged to continue meeting and working to improve their lot.

Goldsberry, who founded Cannabis Action Network and runs Berkeley Patients Group, one of the nation’s oldest and largest medical marijuana dispensaries, perhaps offered the best observation of the nurturing and organizing that took place at the gathering.

“It’s like a little baby chick, the Montana medical marijuana law,” she said, cupping her hands tenderly. “So you’re going to have to help it grow up, and give it a good home.”
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