A Missoula judge last week issued an order that will allow Montana's largest medical marijuana provider to proceed with five new operations previously rejected by the state health department.
Lionheart has been ensnared with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services since November, initially over third-party processing agreements, then access to the state's tracking system and now the approval of its new locations. Those include grow sites in Livingston, Belgrade, Helena and Great Falls, as well as a dispensary in Helena.
In its May 30 filing, Lionheart asked Missoula County District Court Judge Robert "Dusty" Deschamps to override DPHHS' rejection of the new sites, and urged him to issue a ruling before June 1. If the Livingston farmer, for example, couldn't plant by then, the investment into preparing the site would be lost, Lionheart would lose tens of thousands of dollars each month its sites sit idle, and the state's largest provider would be unable to supply its patients, according to court filings.
Far and away the largest provider in the state, Lionheart has more than 4,000 registered patients and 19 facilities in place before the five sites — four grow operations and a dispensary — in contention. According to Lionheart's filings, the state rejected approval of the new sites because Lionheart was not in full compliance with the state's seed-to-sale tracking system.
In his May 31 order, Deschamps found that Lionheart could suffer "great and irreparable" losses if the ruling went against the provider, and ordered DPHHS approve the sites immediately.
These court proceedings are happening in parallel to the department's internal proceedings, in which both sides are addressing the DPHHS action against Lionheart's state license.
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Last year the department found flaws at some of Lionheart's facilities, setting off issues with Lionheart's ability to register with the state's seed-to-sale tracking system — state law requires compliance with that system. In a separate court action, Deschamps ordered DPHHS to allow Lionheart into the tracking system in December.
In an email to the Missoulian last week, DPHHS spokesman Jon Ebelt said all providers were given the same ability to become compliant with licensing requirements and enroll in that tracking system.
"Most were able to accomplish the necessary activities within 45 days of notification of compliance deficiencies," he said.
Lionheart attorney Josh Van de Wetering wrote previously in court filings that the provider has challenged DPHHS on its inspection findings, but never heard back. Those differing interpretations in compliance issues are likely now the subject of administrative proceedings set off by DPHHS' action against Lionheart's license. Ebelt declined to comment on the nature of the action against the provider's license pending that ongoing process.
Deschamps' order allowing Lionheart to proceed with its new grow operations was in effect for 10 days after its order. The next hearing has not yet been scheduled.