Response to Concerns about State of Medical Marijuana Law in Montana

This is a long post folks, but an important one.  Last week we received the following comment which expresses deep concern about SB423.  I wanted to offer a formal response and go into some detail:

“If the injunction does not become permanent through law.. the State will  appeal.. And when the supreme court rules against the district court( and they MOST CERTAINLY WILL!!!) again Medical Marijuana in Montana could be devastated ! That is why we must act now! It is clear that Sb 423 in its current form is not ideal! It would obviously be much better to introduce a feasible Bill NOW! A bill that will actually work for the People! Work for the state! and work for everyone! Patients should be able to have more than an oz! especially if they grow their own! And they should have the option to both grow their own and acquire from a provider! The state should be able to generate much more revenue through this industry and protect the citizens of this great state!! We MUST ACT NOW!! We have to pass something transparent in session this session at all costs!! Lets please get Goetz paid off!! why is he not paid yet!! where is all the money going!!??? This is War imo and we must not underestimate our powerful opponents! that is why we must win in session and pass a comprehensive bill!! SB423 as is with the injunction is only ok but its not what the people or the state or the feds want!!!! So we should act now to be sure the patients interests are being looked out for by the MTCIA and the people of this great state! Act now to ensure the MTCIA and other organizations have the support of our people, who need to contact their politicians. Contact your representative asap! If all the responsibility of the success for Montana’s cannabis industry lies in the hands of the Mtcia, IF WE LOSE THIS SESSION WE DIE AS A GROUP!! individuals will be prohibited from legal access to safe quality local medicine!!!  many will be questioning the appropriation of donations and funds acquired over the last 2 years, transparency should be compliant and ultimately we should all stand up now and demand that the interest of the people donating are being properly represented in this fight of a lifetime! ACT NOW!! Support Jim Goetz! Support Montana Rights!!”

First, the MTCIA absolutely and unequivocally thinks SB423 is a bad law.  We supported its repeal (even though it wasn’t our campaign), and unfortunately the voters disagreed with us by a very wide margin across the state.  There is a lot of head-scratching as to why we fell so far short – voter confusion and preaching to the choir are the most common answers.  But it is what it is.  And it puts us in a nearly impossible spot this legislative session to take action against it.  The general consensus among elected officials – both Democrat and Republican – is that the voters had a chance to get rid of SB423 and instead they overwhelmingly voted to keep it.  Ok, ouch.

That leaves us to try and figure out what we CAN do, and the best way to do it.  We have been debating this with supporters, lobbyists and politicians since the election.

Right now, we believe the best we can expect to accomplish is to seek make change where the current law is clearly flawed.  As I previously wrote, Rep. Kelly McCarthy is introducing bills that will make permanent the things that were blocked in the law.  This makes good sense.  It costs the state and the community a lot of money to fight over things that are clearly a problem.  After all, the state has been blocked twice now, even after the legislature, the AG and the Montana Supreme Court have fought it.  We would be better off making these simple changes and moving on.

Senator Wanzenreid is trying to get PTSD added as a condition.  We all know PTSD is very real, incredibly harmful to people, and medical marijuana helps.  This is another common sense change that benefits patients who need help.

The natural tendency is to try to ditch our current law and start over with a smart regulatory system.  But this raises several big concerns among those of us who have been on this ride before, as well as numerous legislators we have talked to.

First, will it accomplish anything?  Its one thing to strongly, utterly, and undyingly believe change is needed.  Its another to pass a bill.  Even the gradual steps we are behind right now have been met with resistance from the top of both parties.  If that is how they react to these simple steps, how will the parties react to a complete overhaul?  Answer:  Not well.

Will filling the halls at the capital with ardent believers make a difference?  How about dozens of hours of heart-wrenching testimony?  Or thousands of targeted emails to elected officials?  Or hundreds of phone calls?  They didn’t work last session.  At all.  We only avoided complete repeal because of the governor’s veto, and then we got a constitutionally defective medical marijuana law.  What, exactly, would pushing for an complete overhaul seeking a more liberal bill accomplish this session?  After we failed at the polls?  Nothing.

In fact, it could easily backfire by re-opening an unpopular issue at the Capital.  We have been warned by several well-placed politicians who believe in our cause that it could not only fail, but backfire and open the door to another effort to make things worse than they are now.  Keep in mind that our political opponents now run both houses this session, not just the house.  The folks that pushed back hard on all attempts last session at better regulation (when there was good support in the Democratic party) now call the shots and have appointed the members of the committees where these bills start.  They SPECIFICALLY DO NOT want a repeat of last session and will go to great lengths to avoid it.

Next, politics does not favor efforts that repeatedly fail.  It does not help our cause to put a lot of high-profile work behind a push for a law that dies a quick death – particularly when the press loves marijuana stories.  We will lose credibility on everything else we try.  We already took a big hit on the election, even though it wasn’t our campaign.  With our success in the courts so far and our ability to reach the supporters in the state, we at least have some political capital we need to maintain and improve upon.  Getting behind a bill that fails to make it out of committee will cost us dearly.  We are better off focusing on battles we can win.

Does this mean we don’t care about patients or providers?  Of course not.  The point of all this hard work for the past year and a half is to improve conditions for patients and providers.

There are some that are concerned we do not always give our donations to our attorney.  We have hired both an accountant and a bookkeeper who will be able to assemble a report to clearly show where the money has gone.  This report will be available to our members – those who have actually funded us – and not the general public.  I can assure everyone that it does not go into anyone’s pockets but our attorney.  We do not make salaries and we do not have large travel budgets – we are an all-volunteer organization.  Our overhead is extremely low.  We hired, and do our best to pay, the best attorney we could find to carry our case.  It really does not get any more interesting or complicated than that.

Will medical marijuana go away if we do not take action now?  No.  While the voters did not overturn SB423 in favor of a new bill, they did vote to keep medical marijuana in place in Montana.  Ironically, this actually keeps our opponents in check, at least for status quo.  Is history reversing itself?  No.  More and more states are adopting medical marijuana laws, and Washington and Colorado just voted for legalization.  Legalization!  That is huge.  History-making huge.  Ok, so Montana will not be an innovator.  Montana will not get the black market under control, keep marijuana out of the hands of minors, or see any tax revenue from the tens of thousands of people in this state will will consume marijuana anyway – at least for now.  We got kicked in the teeth first by the federal raids and then by the legislature, but the national trends are clear.  Our best approach is to continue to make practical changes where we can.  Put pressure on our congressional delegates to change federal law.  If our elected officials will not respond to the shift in voter opinion, we get back to the petitions.  And we will be back next session, and the next and the next.  Change is coming whether our leadership gets that or not.

It is pretty tough being a medical marijuana activist in Montana.  For the patients who clearly understand how marijuana benefits them, it seems obvious and tragic.  For the providers who have established strong relationships with their sick clients, it is a humanitarian, compassionate labor of love full of risk and unfair stereotypes.  The challenges here dwarf those of practically every other state in the US.  But we are still here.  We are a smarter organization than when we started.  Heck, we are an organization at all!  We have been successful at holding the law at bay for a year and half, despite the legislature, despite the Attorney General’s office and despite the Montana Supreme Court.  And the landscape is changing all the time.  We will continue to take every shot we can at improvement.  Medical marijuana is not going away.  And neither are we.

Soldier on!



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