Judge Reynolds ruled that a three-patient limit imposed by the Legislature should be lifted without delay, clearing the way for Montana’s medical cannabis program to provide safe access for thousands of patients, reports Mike Dennison at MTN News.
The initiative approved by voters last month struck down a harsh, severely restrictive law passed by the conservative GOP-controlled Montana Legislature in 2011 that limited medical marijuana providers to just three patients each. The law was widely seen as effectively nullifying the will of the voters, after a medical marijuana law was approved by voters in 2004.The three-patient limit finally took effect Aug. 31 after a five-year court battle, forcing the closure of medical marijuana dispensaries across the state and leaving thousands of registered users without providers. Among other bad things, the law required the state in initiate an investigation into any doctor that recommended medical marijuana to 25 or more patients each year.
Supporters of Initiative 182, approved by voters last month, said they intended that the measure would immediately remove the three-patient limit after passage. I-182 supporters asked Judge Reynolds to fix this “scrivener’s error,” and state health officials did not oppose the request.
“I am ordering that section … of the initiative to take effect immediately,” Reynolds said after an hour-long hearing Wednesday morning. “That was in fact an error in the drafting process for this initiative and the (state) is directed to implement that section immediately, as intended by the voters of the state of Montana.”
Kate Cholewa, director of government relations for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA), said that the ruling is “very good news for many patients that have been waiting to get access to their medical marijuana providers.” Cholewa said patients who need access to cannabis will be rushing to get their cards reinstated and sign up with suppliers.
“The immediate effects are restoring access to the more than 10,000 patients in Montana who have been denied access to their medicine,” Richard Eggers, owner of Montana Preferred Provider, a Missoula medical marijuana provider, told Toke Signals on Thursday. “This ruling allows doctors to do their jobs and thousands of patients to get back on the program. It is a very exciting day for all of us.”
“Physicians who do provide medical marijuana referrals, their phones will be ringing off the hook, as people try to get back into the program,” Cholewa said. “And I think that providers will be busy helping patients with that paperwork and help them process it, and getting this moving.”
State health officials in charge of the program had required medical cannabis providers to identify which specific three patients they would continue to supply. Most providers, however, said they couldn’t even stay in business with just three patients. The cutoff negatively affected about 11,000 patients in the state, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
The Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which authored the ballot measure, intended for the limit to be struck down as soon as it was passed but the effective dates of the various sections of the initiative were not updated with the final changes. Reynolds said the issue over the effective dates was clearly an error.
Voters approved I-182 at the ballot box by 57 percent to 42 percent.