The Montana medical marijuana program has been decimated by last summer’s Republican legislature. As of May 31st, the number of registered medical marijuana card holders has fallen to 8,734. That is an 18 percent drop since April, and a whopping 72 percent drop from a year ago when the May 31st card holder count was 31,522. Providers, formally called caregivers, have had their numbers decline from 4838 last year, to only 400. Last year there were 365 doctors recommending medical marijuana to at least one of their patients. That number has dropped to 235.
It was just one year ago that the Montana medical marijuana law was in jeopardy of being repealed altogether. Montana voters passed a citizen initiative medical marijuana law in 2004. A contentious debate in the 2011 legislature led to the Montana Speaker of the House, Republican Mike Milburn, authoring legislation to repeal the law, but that bill was vetoed by Governor Brian Schweitzer. After Milburn’s bill was vetoed by the Governor, the legislature approved a second bill that did not outright appeal the Montana medical marijuana law, but was aimed at slashing the number of medical marijuana users and largely eliminating the business side of Montana’s Medical Marijuana industry. The governor did nothing to stop that harsh regulation bill, and let it pass into law without his signature.
During the debate in the Legislature about the future of Montana’s medical marijuana law last year, state and federal lawmakers were planning a coordinated crackdown on several dispensaries. In March of 2011, federal agents executed 26 warrants on business, warehouses and even the homes of owners and landlords. Agents seized thousands of medical marijuana plants, computers, office equipment and files. It wasn’t just the medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana that were raided that shut down. After the raids, dozens of dispensaries also closed their doors in fear that they would be next. Two months after the raids, the legislators passed that restrictive new law, and that added to the momentum of dispensary and medical marijuana clinics to shut down.
Many of those medical marijuana providers were arrested during the raids last year. Some are finally having their cases tried. So far, the outcomes have been devastating. Tom Daubert who helped write that landmark 2004 initiative to allow the medical usage of cannabis has recently struck a plea deal, but one that may include three years in prison. He is still awaiting his sentencing for conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises.
Representative Millburn is happy with the outcome of the 2011 Legislature and the way they dealt with medical marijuana. He recently told a crowd at a screening of a documentary that explored the medical marijuana debate of 2011 called, “The Code of the West”, that he wouldn’t change anything about the way they handled it. He said that it was only shortly before the legislative session last year that he discovered how out-of-control the medical marijuana industry had become. He also admitted that they had accomplished what they had set out to do.
Parts of the law the legislature passed have been blocked by a judge, and the new law is facing both a court challenge and a voter referendum come November.