Montana’s Medical Marijuana Industry Declining

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Montanta’s marijuana industry has been declining ever since legislators stepped in after 2004, when cannabis was first legalized. Check out what NBCNews discovered in the article below.

News21 reports:

Gone are the flashing green neon lights advertising $200 ounces of pot. Gone are the caravans of cannabis doctors who signed up hundreds of people in a single day.

The medical marijuana business in Montana boomed after voters legalized it in 2004. At one time, this state of only a million people had almost 30,000 patients and 4,900 providers.

But the industry has been crippled by state legislators and a determined grass-roots opposition. And a state Supreme Court decision coming as early as October could all but wipe it out.

“It’s hard for patients to live like that, not knowing if they’ll have their cards next year,” said Elizabeth Pincolini, who runs a referral service in Billings that connects patients to the few doctors left willing to write marijuana recommendations. “It’s pretty desperate.”

Depending on how the court rules, providers could be banned from charging anything besides $50 license fees and renewals. They could be limited to three patients each and blocked from advertising.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have eased restrictions on medical marijuana, with more expected to follow. Montana is the only one going the opposite way.

A program in turmoil

Montana legalized medical marijuana a decade ago with 62 percent of the vote. The industry grew in small spurts at first. Then the Justice Department announced in 2009 that it would not interfere with medical-marijuana users who comply with state laws.

The industry ballooned. In Montana, there were 3,900 patients and 1,400 providers in September 2009. Less than two years after the Justice Department announcement, there were seven times as many patients and three times as many providers.

Pot shops opened near schools in Butte and across the street from churches in Billings. An opposition movement was born.

“You could just see that the traffic going in and out had nothing to do with medicine,” said Steve Zabawa, a prominent donor to the anti-marijuana movement in Billings, where he owns a chain of car dealerships. “Basically, the black market went to the regular market, and it popped up everywhere.”

In March 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration conducted raids across the state after an 18-month investigation into whether medical marijuana businesses were involved in drug trafficking and other federal crimes.

Shops were closed, and their operators were charged under federal drug laws.

Legislators targeted the few businesses still open by trying to repeal medical marijuana. The program was a signature away from dissolution in April 2011, when then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democratic, vetoed a repeal bill.

Later that same legislative session, lawmakers pushed through a bill widely known as “repeal in disguise,” and Schweitzer signed it into law in May 2011. That law, later weakened by a state judge, is the subject of the coming Supreme Court decision.

Under the law, providers couldn’t charge a cent beyond recouping license application fees, so they had no incentive to stay open.

After it was passed, the number of patients dropped from almost 30,000 to less than 9,000 in June 2012. The number of providers, who were suddenly limited to three patients apiece, shrank from almost 5,000 to less than 400.

 Ex-Montana Medical Marijuana Dispensary Owner: ‘It’s Been a Living Hell’ 3:43

The state judge blocked three of it’s the law’s restrictive measures after the marijuana industry sued. The state Supreme Court ordered him to reconsider his ruling, but he made it permanent in January 2015.

Attorney GeneralTim Fox appealed, saying that the judge erred in interpreting the law. A spokesman for Fox declined to make him available for comment, citing the pending court case.

Larger providers, allowed for now under the judge’s order, operate storefronts and stock assorted strains with names like Blue Dream, OG Kush and Black Cherry Soda. They have registers full of cash, stickers with logos and menus with prices.

But they can’t refer to their operations as a dispensary, and they can’t call what they do business.

“It’s interesting that they call ‘dispensary’ a loaded term,” said Carly Dandrea, a “budtender” for Around the Clock Cannabis in Bozeman and a fifth-generation Montanan. “I take offense to that. It’s what we do. It’s who we are.”

State Sen. David Howard, who helped lead the movement against marijuana in Montana, said marijuana is no medicine.

“That’s what they wanted you to think it was — medicine,” he said. “It has no practical applications, and it was tearing apart Montana.”

 

Full article here: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/why-montana-going-backward-medical-marijuana-n410081

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