Children, Family, Health, & Human Services Interim Committee Meeting

March 27, 2012

The following was presented by Chris Lindsey at the Children, Family, Health, & Human Services Interim Committee Meeting in Helena on March 30, 2012.

Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, my name is Chris Lindsey, and I am here on behalf of the MTCIA.

If the purpose of SB423 was to encourage people to leave the system, the current law has been a tremendous success. If the purpose was to regulate medical marijuana in a way that can help the sick people who need it the most, the current law almost entirely misses the mark.

While DPHHS does a good job of managing a registry of participants, that is exactly the limit of DPHHS’s involvement in the program. No one in government is paying attention to the production, distribution, and use of marijuana as medicine. And that lack of control is a disservice to those sick people this system was established to serve.

Rather than address quality standards, testing, labeling requirements and financial controls, the current law is really about building barriers to participation:

• The law says that patients can grow their own, but makes it illegal for patients to obtain plants or seeds.
• If two unrelated patients live together and one needs to grow, it is illegal for the other person to continue living there.
• Probationers cannot participate in the program no matter what, regardless of what their PO, doctor or the sentencing judge thinks about it.
• We have a system in which law enforcement not only verifies a person is in the registry, they make that determination for EVERY traffic stop in the state, regardless of the purpose for the stop. What is the likelihood that the nature of the stop changes for those who are ID’d as being in the registry? Is that fair, or even what was intended?
• We have a system that makes it harder to obtain a recommendation from a physician (and therefore more expensive for patients), but then removes the word “medical” from the entire Act.

But when it comes to who produced what, what chemicals or agents went into it, how much was consumed, and where the money went, we can’t even begin to tell.

The lesson we should get from SB423 is that restriction is not the same thing as regulation.

The issues that are central to the MTCIA lawsuit are obviously important to the organization, but they are only part of the story here, and frankly not the most important part. This law was originally created for the patients. They are the beneficiaries of a well regulated system, regardless of the outcome of that case. The system we have now is dysfunctional with or without the help of the courts.

The black market should not be the better option for participants in the program, but that is effectively what we get. Unless a patient is wealthy enough to purchase all the growing equipment, and unless he or she is healthy enough to grow marijuana, unless he or she is smart enough to be able to keep enough on hand but never more than an ounce at a time, and unless he or she is lucky enough to live in a location that can accommodate a marijuana grow, the black market stands ready to provide. The patient may not know what’s in it, how it was made, or what state or country it came from, but it will always be there.

Medical marijuana is not going away because marijuana is not going away. You can choose to ignore it, hope and wish and pray for the federal government to figure out something. Or you can get involved in managing the system that will be there regardless of whether or not the government chooses to get involved.

It is nice that various parts of our government are talking with law enforcement about implementation, but is anyone talking to the people for whom the law was created?

SB423 was a law created by those who were morally opposed to its very existence. It is designed to hinder, frustrate, and turn away participants and ignores the system it claims to regulate. The law is damaged goods and the MTCIA does not believe it can be amended into something functional. We would be far better off taking a fresh approach by taking the lessons we learned in putting together HB68, regulating other substances in our state, and determine what lessons can be learned by the experience in other states and create our own regulatory approach.

Or we can continue to ignore the presence of marijuana in our society except for law enforcement purposes, and hope that it will simply go away.

Good luck with that approach.