HELENA – In short order, a House committee on Friday rejected and then tabled four bills intended to fix parts of the 2011 medical marijuana law that a district judge has temporarily blocked.
The House Human Services Committee voted down House bills 340-343 by Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, on identical 12-4 votes. All 10 Republicans and two Democrats opposed the bills, while four Democrats supported them.
During the discussion, a sharp division emerged among committee members over medical marijuana and the 2011 law, Senate Bill 423. It greatly restricted its use and squeezed the profits out of what had been a booming industry here.
Chairman David Howard, R-Park City, a former FBI agent, criticized marijuana as “a joke.”
“This stuff is disguised as medicine,” Howard said. “It makes you delusional. It is psychologically addicting and physiologically addicting and it absorbs in your fat cells, which is the most dangerous drug there is. This is not a drug. It’s a poison.”
Howard told how he was the operations chief against marijuana planting in California in the 1980s, organizing and cutting down thousands of illegal plants.
Rep. Amanda Curtis, D-Butte, said the initiative that legalized medical marijuana here passed in 2004 “without any real sideboards at all.”
“The million-mile-high sideboards that were put on with SB423 made its practical use as a medicine illegal,” she said. “The injunctions put on the court facilitated limited use, and we saw the number of cardholders drop from 30,000 to 8,000 with those injunctions. We would have had zero without those injunctions.”
She told how medical marijuana had helped alleviate pain for her husband’s elderly grandmother, a deeply religious woman who lived in Washington state, after she fell and broke her hip.
McCarthy had tried to repair the 2011 law by reversing provisions in the law that District Judge James Reynolds of Helena temporarily enjoined in January. The judge did the same in June 2011, but the Montana Supreme Court reversed him and ordered him to rehear the matter, using a stricter legal standard.
HB340 would have eliminated the provision in the law requiring the Board of Medical Examiners to automatically review any physicians who have issued written certification for medical marijuana for more than 25 people in any 12-month period.
HB341 would have allowed medical marijuana providers to be paid for providing pot to cardholders. The 2011 law forbade compensation.
HB342 would have removed the three-person limit on the number of cardholders that medical marijuana providers could serve. There had been no limit previously.
HB343 would have eliminated from the law’s requirements that providers keep records and its provision allowing for automatic inspections.
In a related development, Attorney General Tim Fox said Friday he would not appeal Reynolds’ ruling, but wants the trial to proceed.
“Judge Reynolds’ injunction order is preliminary and does not rule upon or address the merits of the case,” said Fox’s spokesman, John Barnes. “Rather than appeal that interim order and cause further delay, Attorney General Fox will proceed to trial and will vigorously defend Montana’s laws.”
Afterward, McCarthy said he had committed during his campaign, if he won, to help members of the Montana Cannabis Information Association address the challenges they were facing under SB423.
“Regardless of federal supremacy, we address only Montana law in the Legislature, and these folks are not breaking any Montana laws,” McCarthy said. “For some patients, marijuana is much safer and better at managing their illnesses than pharmacological alternatives.”