New Senate Bill Seeks to Limit Patients, Ban Storefronts and Ads

Posted on March 24, 2011



HELENA — When it comes to medical marijuana, the choice for legislators so far has been between repealing or reforming the law that allows its use. But a new Senate bill, which is scheduled to be heard Friday morning, offers a mix of both to dramatically cut the number of patients and outlaw storefronts and advertising for the drug.

Senate Bill 423 relies on the 2004 voter initiative first being repealed. It would then put a much stricter law in its place.

The bill is a product of a three-member subcommittee that was formed after the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked last week on bill to repeal the law.

The head of that subcommittee, Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, said the group’s new bill seeks to reduce the number of card holders from more than 28,000 to possibly less than 2,000.

Most current cardholders are registered for the treatment of chronic pain. Essmann said his bill intends to dramatically cut the number of chronic pain patients through requiring “objective proof” of their condition and recommendations from two physicians.

The subcommittee has worked feverishly to crank out the 48-page bill since the repeal bill stalled. Essmann said he plans to blast the repeal measure out of committee so the entire Senate can vote that and his new bill on the same day, most likely Saturday or Monday, if SB 423 clears committee.

Essmann said the reason for calling for repeal first is that he can see no other way to rein in the law than starting from a clean slate.

While SB 423 contains complex language to coordinate with a repeal, Essmann said there is nothing to prevent the Senate from killing it and only passing repeal. Likewise, there is nothing to stop repeal getting killed and only the reform measure from passing.

But if that happened, the bill would do nothing because it is designed to institute a new law, not regulate the existing one.

SB 423 would ban all advertisement for medical marijuana, and set up four types of licenses for people or organizations who would provide marijuana to card holders: growers, infused product manufacturers, personal production assistants and couriers. Anyone involved would undergo a criminal background check. Convicted felons would be ineligible for any license or to become a card holder.

Organizations could be licensed as growers or infused-product manufacturers, but they must operate on a not-for-profit basis. Infused products would be  items such as butters and tinctures containing the active ingredients in marijuana.

Growers would be limited to 95 plants, and couriers would deliver their marijuana and the products of manufacturers to card holders.

Production assistants would help card holders grow their own if they choose to. The assistants would be limited to serving four card holders.

For-profit businesses could become couriers, but couriers would not be allowed to grow or manufacture the drug.

The Public Service Commission would be in charge of regulating all growers, production assistants, infused-product manufacturers and couriers, while the Department of Health and Human Services would continue to determine who is eligible for using the drug. The bill would also do away with the term “medical marijuana” and replace it with “therapeutic marijuana.”

Here’s how it would work with repeal:

The repeal bill, House Bill 161, would stop the issuance of new cards under the 2004 law immediately, then on July 1 all marijuana would be illegal again under state law.

If SB 423 is passed, it would force all card holders registered for chronic pain to re-register through the tougher process, which they could do starting on June 1.

Businesses would have to apply for licenses with the PSC, which they could also do while the repeal was in effect, but they would have to conform to the 95-plant and five-patient limits. However, even newly licensed providers would not be able to distribute any marijuana until Oct. 1. During that time, the only way card holders could obtain marijuana is if they grew it themselves.

– Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at

Posted in: Daily Grind