Posted: Feb 14, 2013 9:04 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - Some say it's about access to their life saving medicine while others say it will open the door to crime and addiction. But what's really at the center of the medical marijuana debate in Helena?
Democratic Representative Kelly McCarthy of Billings is bringing to the table four bills that loosen the state's medical marijuana laws.
They collectively they remove the limits on the number of patients a provider can serve, allow the exchange of cash for cannabis, eliminate unannounced inspections and the tracking of doctors who prescribe medical marijuana.
"Nothing that we do here today will increase patients access to medical marijuana nor will it decrease patients access to medical marijuana," McCarthy explained.
The Legislature passed Senate Bill 423 last session, cracking down on the medical marijuana industry.
"SB 423 was intended to put as many obstacles in the way of patients and providers as could be imagined," said Pat Paris with the Montana Cannabis Information Association.
The cannabis groups challenged the law as soon as it passed, and a district court judge has struck down many provisions as unconstitutional.
McCarthy says his bill cleans up those parts of the law which the courts have tossed out. But for patients, these bills are about their livelihood.
"About four years ago I was in the hospital about 15 times in a two-year span. The doctors didn't know what to do and didn't know what was wrong with me. Finally I had a physician that recommended medical marijuana,"said Amanda McCormick, a medical marijuana patient from Billings.
"In the two years I have been a part of the program, it's significantly changed my life. I've been able to work again and I graduated from college," she added.
However, opponents say they open the door to trouble.
"Marijuana is a gateway drug, that the kids in trouble start out with. It leads to further substance abuse problems," commented Candace Payne with the Rimrock Foundation.
"Is putting the money back into this industry in the highest interest of the people of Montana? Is taking the limit off the number of patients, therefore taking the limit off how much they can grow, paving the way for large grows and black market, is that in the highest interest of the people of Montana?" asked Cherrie Brady with Safe Communities Safe Kids.
They fear Montana will return to the days of traveling medical marijuana caravans and grow operations opening up next to schools.