The House Human Services Committee on Friday tabled — and, according to Charles S. Johnson of the Missoulian, almost certain killed — four medical marijuana bills, all by Rep. Kelly McCarthy (D-Billings).
All four of the bills died on 12-4 votes, with 10 Republicans and two Democrats opposing the bills, while four Democrats backed them.
McCarthy wrote the bills to fix the 2011 medical marijuana law, SB 423, which has also been challenged in court. SB 423 is so stringent, it has been described as “de facto repeal” of the state’s medical marijuana law, approved by a massive 62 percent of Montana voters in 2000.
Rep. McCarthy tried to remove the provisions in the law that have already been blocked twice with preliminary injunctions by District Judge James Reynolds of Helena, most recently in January.
“We were hoping to make SB 423, as enjoined, permanent so the legal gymnastics could stop and all parties could get on with their lives,” McCarthy said after all four of the bills were killed.McCarthy is, by his own description, one of the least likely legislators to sponsor medical marijuana bills. Now a banker, he served in U.S. military intelligence for 23 years, even participating in some operations to intercept illegal drug smugglers.
But members of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association met with McCarthy during his campaign, explaining to him the challenges patients face when it comes to safe access to the cannabis recommended by their doctors.
“I made a commitment to help them if and when I got elected,” McCarthy said. But he wasn’t surprised, he said, when the bills were killed.“I understand that I’ve burned a bit of political capital on this one, but everyone deserves representation,” McCarthy said. “When I didn’t see too many other legislators wanting to take up the challenge, I leaned into the strike zone and took one for the team.
“I didn’t think we’d win, but I didn’t let that stop me from giving it my best shot,” McCarthy said.
All four of McCarthy’s bills ran into opposition from another former federal employee who fought drugs: House Human Services Chairman David Howard (R-Park City).
Howard is a retired FB agent and chief of law enforcement for the Bureau of Land Management. He bragged to the committee how, in the 1980s, he “spearheaded” an effort to chop down thousands of illegal marijuana plants. (Funny that he’d want to brag about something so goddamned stupid, but there ya go.)
Howard called marijuana “a poison” (yes, this idiot really said that) and “a joke” on Friday after calling it “a scourge” two years ago.
It isn’t likely that any medical marijuana bill will pass the 2013 Legislature without going through Howard’s committee; that’s just not going to happen, according to many observers.
Over in the Montana state Senate, Sen. Dave Wanzenreid (D-Missoula), meanwhile, has two medical marijuana bills that will be heard this week.
One would prevent the Montana Board of Pharmacy from delaying the rescheduling of marijuana if Congress or a federal agency changes how it’s federally scheduled under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.
Wanzenreid’s other bill would add post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying medical conditions for which physicians can recommend medical marijuana.
This is Wanzenreid’s final session of a long legislative career, and he’s been a friend to Montana’s medical marijuana patients.
“There’s an old saying that doing the popular thing isn’t always the right thing,” Wanzenreid said. “The popular thing about medical marijuana this session is not to do anything and let the courts decide.
“I think we have a responsibility to reexamine any policy on a regular basis,” he said. “Having a good discussion on medical marijuana is a good idea.”
Wanzenreid has another Senate bill he intends to introduce this week, incorporating provisions of all four of McCarthy’s failed measures from the House.
“Responsible democracy for me is about speaking out and having a vigorous debate about things that some people would just as soon not talk about,” Wanzenreid said.