Up in smoke

Over the weekend, someone dumped about 10 marijuana plants in the parking lot of Missoula's drug task force office. Police Chief Mark Muir says the plants were stripped clean of any useable marijuana—"just some useless stems in pots."

Missoula has 680 cannabis caregivers—and Muir says none of them turned over a single bud to law enforcement before July 1, when some parts of a new, more restrictive medical marijuana law took effect, wiping out caregivers' legal protection. "Apparently it all went up in smoke," Muir quips.

Not likely, although caregivers and their patients are understandably perplexed by the current state of affairs. Last Thursday, a day before Senate Bill 423 was to take effect, Helena District Judge James Reynolds issued a preliminary injunction blocking portions of the new law, including the ban on profits and the three-patient limit. The decision appeared to defend patients' rights to access their medicine, except for this: Caregivers technically can't supply their patients with medicine until they re-register with the state as "providers," a process that will likely take weeks.

In the meantime, Muir says, "it would appear to me that there are not any legal caregiver or dispensary operations, and if we do reach that conclusion, and we find that caregivers who are no longer caregivers under the law are still providing marijuana to folks, then we of course will have to take some sort of action against that."

John Masterson of Montana NORML finds himself trying to guide caregivers through this legal limbo. "The concern," he says, "is that we have honest business people out there with hundreds of plants in indoor gardens, and they are, technically speaking, not currently protected by Montana state law, and so it's imperative that these gardeners go through the wheels of bureaucracy and get registered under the new program."

Among the new law's other changes, Muir stresses its restrictions on public marijuana use, saying that "patients need to understand that they need to take their medicine in a much more discrete manner...they can't just openly smoke out in public."

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