Medical Marijuana Repeal Stalls as Feds Raid Growers

Posted on March 14, 2011

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By CODY BLOOMSBURG

HELENA — The Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked 6-6 Monday on a  bill to repeal Montana’s voter-approved medical marijuana law, effectively tabling the bill – at least for a while.

Afterward, Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, said he expects the full Senate will vote to bring the bill to the floor for a wider debate.

“It’s not over. It’s long from over,” Peterson said, adding that he expected the tie vote.

The sponsor of HB 161, House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, said he also expected the tie vote and hopes the full Senate will get a chance to vote on the measure.

“I was hoping for better, that maybe someone would come to their senses at the last minute, but no surprise,” Milburn said.

Milburn said he likes the odds of getting the bill blasted out of committee, citing that he believes each day that goes by only brings forward more people and stories that make repeal look like a better solution.

The vote preceded news reports later in the day that federal law enforcement agents were raiding several medical marijuana operations across the state.

A story by the Associated Press, reported at least 10 businesses in six Montana cities were raided and property seized by agents operating under sealed federal warrants.

During the debate in committee, however, no one knew of the searches.

Peterson was one of those for repeal on the Senate Judiciary Committee, with Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, joining the five Republicans. Jent, the lone Democrat to come out for repeal, said he primarily based his move on the fact marijuana is illegal under federal law.

“I realize culturally I will never understand and participate very well within my own party and that’s fine, Jent said. “I’ve had enough cheap cheese and bad chardonnay for a life time.”

Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, also took an unpopular stance with his party, siding with the remaining four Democrats in saying repeal wasn’t the right fix to the problem.

“I believe that we have a huge mess on our hands and I agree that there are a lot of people in the state that are angry,” Vincent said. “They’re angry that what they voted in wasn’t what they got. They’re angry that the Legislature didn’t put some sideboards on it to ensure that what they voted on was what would get. They’re angry at the executive, or should be, for not promulgating rules when the Legislature failed to put the sideboards on.”

But he added that he believes Montanans would be equally angry if lawmakers repealed the law and took away a chance for relief from those with legitimate need.

The committee’s chairman, Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, made the sixth vote.

He told the room that when he campaigned, he promised voters he would not vote for repeal and he intended to keep his word.

After the vote, Murphy appointed Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings; Sen. Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula; and Vincent to a committee to draw up a bill to tighten regulations and reform the medical marijuana law.

Peterson, however, wouldn’t comment on the likelihood of a reform bill making it to the Senate floor. He said that would depend on what they comes up with.

Milburn said the House continues to support repeal. Meanwhile, another reform bill, this one written by a committee that studied the issue between sessions,  remains tabled in the House.

That measure,  House Bill 68, would not get to the Senate in its current condition, Milburn said.

– Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at crbloomsburg@hotmail.com

Posted in: Daily Grind