How Montana Medical Marijuana Legislation Is Finally Catching Up With Demand

How Montana Medical Marijuana Legislation Is Finally Catching Up With Demand

For 14 years, Montana medical marijuana patients have had to get by on a limited supply. New legislation is (hopefully) about to change that.

In May 2011, there were 31,522 legal Montana medical marijuana cardholders. But when the state enacted a newer, stricter MMJ program later that year, the number of legal users started to plummet.

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However, as a recent report by the Montana Legislative Services Division’s office of research and policy analysis indicates, the number of cardholders in Montana has nearly tripled and the number of MMJ  providers has increased by 17 percent since a 2016 ballot initiative and 2017 state Senate bill relaxed restrictions.

Montana first legalized medical marijuana in 2004, allowing patients with debilitating medical conditions to legally possess the substance. In 2011, the state legislature approved a new medical marijuana program which placed more restrictions on the drug and implemented tougher requirements for Montana’s physicians, caregivers, and patients. The new program — SB 423 — has been roundly criticized by patients, who claim it has made obtaining medical marijuana needlessly complicated.

In 2015, a medical marijuana patient submitted a petition to get the legalization of pot on the ballot in the state. The proposed amendment, which would have allowed adults to legally purchase, possess, and consume marijuana, failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. While SB 423 would ultimately be upheld by the state Supreme Court and go into effect in August 2016, Montana residents successfully voted to expand the state’s medical marijuana program in November of that year.

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As the Great Falls Tribune explains, voters approved the the Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative in November 2016, and the Legislature passed Senate Bill 333 in 2017. The ballot initiative and senate bill removed a stifling three-person limit on the number of patients per marijuana provider, added post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of approved medical conditions, broadened the production parameters of cannabis products, and allowed licensing and testing laboratories and dispensaries. The final version of the medical marijuana program’s rules, which go into effect April 10, clarify testing procedures, how providers will secure their businesses, and how marijuana will be labeled, among other tweaks.

While some of Montana’s 600-plus cannabis caregivers are concerned about the potential costs associated with the new regulations, many are already getting ready for the expected influx of business. According to Marijuana Business Daily, many of the state’s caregivers have moved to open dispensaries or make first-time expansions into retail chains. As one MMJ business owner estimates, there are now between 120 and 150 dispensaries in Montana — up from roughly 50 a year ago — as well as another 50 or so modest medical marijuana delivery operations.

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Progress is still progress, even if it happens slowly. Kudos to Montana for finally getting with the program with their MMJ program. Is it too soon to suggest that they consider legalizing recreational pot legal, too?

Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.