Lawmakers begin considering changes to Montana medical-marijuana law

Lawmakers begin considering changes to Montana medical-marijuana law

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Lawmakers are starting to "get into the weeds," as one lawmaker put it, and are expecting to soon start writing specific new proposed laws cleaning up what many see as problems in Montana's wide-open medical-marijuana industry.

For months, an interim group of bipartisan lawmakers on the Children, Families, Health and Human Services interim committee have been studying the state's medical-marijuana regulatory scheme. Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, the chairwoman of the committee, said she expected to announce a smaller group of lawmakers today that will begin writing actual proposed laws for the 2011 Legislature to consider.

Those bills should be finished by August.

The committee heard from a long line of medical-marijuana supporters and critics here at their meeting in Helena this morning, almost all of whom said some kind of stepped-up regulation is necessary to rein in the industry.

Specifically, the committee is looking at licensing Montana's medical-marijuana's growers and providers and closing loopholes that now allow criminal defendants to claim chronic illness as a defense when charged with illegally using or owning marijuana.

Helenan Tom Daubert, the man behind the successful 2004 citizen initiative that legalized marijuana for medical purposes, said the relationship between doctor and patient needs to stronger, and he criticized traveling clinics where hundreds of people can get medical-marijuana cards in a single day.

Those clinics are organized by the Montana Caregivers Network, a Missoula group. Daubert today accused the group's operations manager, Jason Christ, of "exploiting loopholes in the law" and sewing the kind of backlash that has some calling for an outright repeal of the law.

Christ also spoke to lawmakers Monday. He said he didn't want to see marijuana "dispensaries everywhere," but added that regulation should not be heavy handed. He said he appreciated the fact that Montana law allows people to smoke marijuana in public and said that "after this meeting I am going to go outside and smoke a bowl."

Shortly after, Christ, who has a medical-marijuana card, produced a large glass pipe and left to do just that.

Check back later for more details.

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