As Reform Falters, Senate Revives Bill to Repeal Medical Marijuana

Posted on March 30, 2011

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By CODY BLOOMSBURG

HELENA — A move by Democrats to stall what appears to be the Legislature’s last chance for medical marijuana reform on Wednesday could set up a repeal-or-nothing choice for lawmakers this session.

Talk of deal-making underscored the debate and heightened tension as Republican leaders refused to trade votes on other measures or support amendments to loosen the reform bill.

The bill received a solid 37-13 endorsement on its first vote Wednesday and need just six Democratic votes for rules to be suspended so a final and confirming vote could be made to send the over to the House by the end of business Wednesday.

But that motion twice failed once at 31-19 and then again at 32-18.

“We had bipartisan support right up until they wanted to get something for it,” said Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby. “They’re playing politics with people’s lives, and I think that’s atrocious.”

Senate Democratic leaders said they withheld support for the motion on SB 423 because Republicans refused to cut a deal and accept their amendments to loosen requirements SB 423.

“It was like (Republicans) had forgotten that it’s not the initial ‘Oh-we’ve-got-the -majority-we-can-do-anything-we-want bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula.

The bill Democrats saw as too strict would ban all advertising and seek to cut the number of card holders from more than 28,000 to less than 2,000. Those seeking permission to use the drug to treat severe, chronic pain would need  recommendations from two physicians and proof of their ailments.

The bill would also do away storefront dispensaries and completely repeal the 2004 voter-approved law for 90 days before the new, stricter law took effect.

But GOP leaders said Democrats wanted more than that. They said they wanted to trade their support for Republican votes on a $98-million bonding bill to build new state buildings.

After the move for a final vote on SB 423 failed, Republicans resurrected House Bill 161, a bill to repeal Montana’s medical marijuana law entirely. That bill had been stuck in committee, but is now scheduled for a debate-stage vote Thursday.

Vincent was one of the Republican holdouts whose opposition had blocked that bill in committee, a move that led to the drafting of Senate Bill 423. Now he says he has no choice but to vote for repeal.

SB 423 could still move to the House if two-thirds of that body votes to allow it in after deadline. But House Majority Leader Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, said the House has always favored repeal.

HB 161’s chief sponsor is House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade.

With Vincent now voting for the repeal bill, the measure should clear the Senate and move back to the House.

With three weeks to go in the session, the decision on medical marijuana could be up to House Republicans.

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

Posted in: Daily Grind