A House committee will soon decide the fate of a wide-ranging reform of state medical marijuana law, though what that bill might look like should it reach the House floor remains to be seen, given considerable testimony and questioning heard Tuesday.

Among other things, Senate Bill 265 calls for an increase, to 4 percent, in the tax on gross sales of marijuana providers; a licensing system that takes into account a marijuana provider’s square footage of canopy space; and expands guidelines for licensing inspections.

Bill sponsor Sen. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, said he believes his bill patches holes in state medical marijuana regulations left over from previous legislation and voter approval of I-182 in 2016. One proponent called the bill "final polish” on state policy.

A provision under the previous draft allowing providers to contract with another provider’s commercial kitchen, laboratory or equipment has been struck.

“With some of the holes or questions we had in the initial bill, we felt that it was important to tighten some things up and make some things statutorily clear,” Jacobson told the House Taxation Committee Tuesday.

Nonetheless, the bill’s Tuesday hearing stretched three hours. Opponents still have recurring concerns from the bill’s Senate committee hearing, among them the fact that rules put in place by marijuana legislation from 2017 have only just taken effect.

Proponents said they believe the bill punishes noncompliance with state law rather than encouraging compliance, which they claim presents a role reversal from existing law.

The Senate Taxation Committee unanimously approved amendments that grew the bill from 30 to 58 pages more than a month after its February hearing. It cleared the Senate 36-14 on April 1.

The bill now forbids the state Department of Health and Human Services to issue new marijuana provider licenses until all current license holders are compliant with Metrc, the state system that tracks marijuana products from seed to sale.

Under another amendment, temporary ID cards to enter the state medical marijuana registry must be issued upon the department’s receipt of an application. That temporary card expires after 60 days, and the bill makes clear that a permanent card cannot be issued until payment clears.

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The current version also addresses provider-physician relations, forbidding providers to arrange an appointment for a potential patient to be examined or help pay for their examination.

Josh Van de Wetering, a lawyer for Lionheart Caregiving, came at least partially to the defense of DPHHS, despite Lionheart's ongoing lawsuit against the department for not being allowed into Metrc.

Van de Wetering called Senate Bill 333, a general medical marijuana bill ratified in 2017, “good” legislation, and reminded the committee that new DPHHS rules regarding medical marijuana came about after the bill was signed.

“As a lawyer, in one sense I have sort of a general message, which is: Please stop changing stuff,” Van de Wetering said.

Last week the Senate approved an amendment to the state budget earmarking $2.5 million in medical marijuana tax revenue to fund peer support services.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that I-182 legalized medical marijuana. I-182 amended and renamed what is now the Montana Medical Marijuana Act. Voter approval of I-148 put Montana's first medical marijuana law into place in 2004.

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Local and State Government Reporter

State and local government reporter for the Independent Record.

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