HELENA — The state House of Representatives voted down a bill Wednesday that sponsor Rep. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula, said would have sent a message to the state that "pain counts."
House Bill 506, to allow patients to use medicinal marijuana for pain or illness relief, died in the House, 60-40. Opponents said the bill would send the wrong message — that it's OK to use marijuana.
The bill' s initial hearing in the House Judiciary Committee last week was emotional, as chronic pain sufferers and multiple sclerosis patients told the committee how cannabis had saved their livelihoods and in some cases, their lives.
Erickson told the House he wished all members could have heard that testimony.
"People of this country want to be able to deal with pain," Erickson said. "They want to deal with pain with medicinal marijuana."
Nine states have adopted medicinal marijuana laws, including Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon.
Opponents said the bill would make the substance more accessible to children and move the state too close to legalization.
Rep. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, voted no.
"Fifteen plants is a hell of a lot of dope," he said, adding that the amount of cannabis the bill allows would be enough to be "given away, given to kids."
The committee last week passed the bill, 13-5, but on Wednesday some of those who approved the bill in committee voted against it on the floor.
Rep. Michael Lange, R-Billings, cast one of those votes. Proponents' emotional testimony moved him to vote in favor of the bill last week, he said, but he changed his vote on the House floor, partly because of the tentative passage Wednesday of a bill that seeks to prevent pain in aborted fetuses.
"I watched almost half of this body vote against a bill that I honestly believe goes for pain reduction," he said. "If what we're boiling things down to are the politics of the day, I have to be consistent with my own party."
Rep. Jesse Laslovich, D-Anaconda, called Lange's explanation a political game and "nothing but an emphatic cop-out."
Like many other supporters, Laslovich told the House that the bill is restrictive. The bill would have made candidates annually apply for identification cards that register them as medicinal marijuana users and would allow patients only 1 ounce of cannabis or 15 marijuana plants. They could not smoke in public or drive under the influence.
"I would hope we could allow people in pain an option," Laslovich said.