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Medical marijuana bill likely deadPosted on March 27

Medical marijuana bill likely deadPosted on March 27

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HELENA - A bill to give medical marijuana patients better access to the drug stalled in a House committee Friday and is likely dead, deadlocking on a party-line vote.

All eight Republicans on the House Human Services Committee voted against Senate Bill 326 and all eight Democrats voted for it.

SB326, sponsored by Sen. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula, would increase the amount of marijuana that a state-licensed patient or "caregiver" can possess, from one to three ounces. It also increased the number of plants a licensed grower can have and listed additional diseases that can be legally treated with marijuana.

Supporters of the bill, which sought to change Montana's medical marijuana program enacted by voters in 2004, said patients often can't get enough of the drug they need under the law's current limits.

"There are problems with access for people who have a legal right to have the drug," said Rep. Arlene Becker, D-Billings, who chairs the committee.

But Republican committee members said people on the program already are "pushing the envelope" on marijuana use and possession, and that the expansions in SB326 would continue that trend.

"I just don't see the need to expand something that doesn't really have the sideboards on it," said Rep. Pat Ingraham, R-Thompson Falls. "We can't even keep tabs on it now."

Rep. Ron Stoker, R-Darby, said a mature plant under the care of an experienced grower could produce seven ounces to a pound of marijuana, which is more than enough for medicinal use. Most patients need one ounce per week, he said.

He also said he wants to prevent the licensed grower from "back-dooring" extra amounts of the drug for sale to recreational users: "That's where I think all of this is headed."

After the vote, Tom Daubert of Patients and Families United, the main group pushing the bill, said Stoker's last comment is a "gross insult" to patients who are chronically ill and dying. None of them is seeking to make more marijuana available for recreational use, he said.

Daubert also said many patients need more than an ounce a week, especially if they ingest it, and that the best Montana growers can't get much more than an ounce of marijuana from a single plant.

"It's very frustrating to hear a legislator who has never been a supporter (of the program) purport to be a growing expert, and he's completely wrong on everything," Daubert said of Stoker.

Unless a Republican on the panel decides to change his or her vote, the bill remains locked up in committee. Any attempt to remove the bill from committee would need 60 votes from the full House.

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