This is what Sen. Trudi Schmidt, D-Great Falls, doesn’t like about medical marijuana: Would-be “caregivers” laughed at a gravely ill woman Schmidt knows because the woman had never been stoned before.
When the woman finally found what she thought was a reputable caregiver, she was distressed to discover the person seemed “half-baked all the time,” Schmidt said.
“There is such abuse going on and it’s our responsibility to bring this back under control,” she said.
Schmidt and other members of an interim legislative subcommittee examining ways to revise the state’s medical marijuana laws shared their frustrations with the current system at a meeting here this week.
Schmidt and other lawmakers pointed to statistics they say underlie public skepticism that the more than 20,000 Montanans now licensed to use medical marijuana actually have a debilitating illness that requires it. Several lawmakers suggested medical marijuana for some is just a scam to get stoned legally.
“I guess everybody who gets sick moves to Missoula,” said Rep. Penny Morgan, R-Billings, referring to the breakdown of where Montana’s medical marijuana patients live.
Missoula and Bozeman, home of the state’s biggest four-year universities, have the highest number of medical marijuana patients as a percentage of county population, state figures show.
Schmidt said the growth has been “explosive,” with the number of new, registered medical marijuana patients doubling in most age categories between March and June.
“This is out of control,” she said.
The panel began meeting last month and has one more meeting scheduled in August. Members are hoping to recommend bill drafts for the 2011 Legislature to consider, to close perceived loopholes in the existing, voter-passed medical marijuana law.
The panel’s efforts will not be the only marijuana-related bill the Legislature is likely to encounter. However, the panel is working on its proposal through a series of public meetings at which many from the medical marijuana industry have testified.
Many of those people have spoken about the legitimate uses of medical marijuana.
Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, who chairs the subcommittee, said the relative youth of many users and their medical reasons for using marijuana make it hard to believe everything is on the up-and-up.
“I’m telling you, part of the credibility of this as a medical product is the size of that number of under 30-year-olds,” she said. “What I hear from the public is that they don’t believe that many 20-year-olds have conditions that are so pressing they need a medical marijuana card. They just don’t buy it.”
More than 25 percent of marijuana patients in Montana are between ages 21 and 30.
More than 13,000 of the some 20,000 Montanans with medical marijuana cards cite “severe chronic pain” as their reason for using.
“I know that people suffer from chronic pain, but that number also seems to me to be extremely puzzling,” Sands said.
Sands also took marijuana sellers to task for advertising that their product treats conditions such as acid reflux, which is not listed under Montana law as an ailment requiring medical marijuana.