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Medical marijuana initiative proposes responsible regulations, accountibilty

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MONTANA — Supporters of an initiative to allow access to medical marijuana for people with debilitating illnesses are diligently gathering more than 35,000 valid signatures needed by June 17 to put the proposed law on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The goal of the new citizens’ initiative is to address concerns about the previous law and improve the regulatory system to make the program functional and transparent for patients, providers, regulators and Montana communities, according to Section 3 of I-182.

The new Montana Medical Marijuana Act would protect access to medical marijuana while providing structure to properly regulate it for safety and accountability. This would be done through accurate labeling, product testing to ensure consistent and accurate dosages, and unannounced yearly inspections by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services of registered premises, dispensaries and testing laboratories.

The new initiative would also provide medical marijuana access for veterans and other patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly called PTSD. Supporters state hard science exists on marijuana’s ability to lessen impact and sometimes even cure diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, chronic pain, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.

Additionally I-182 creates licensing fees to administer the program without dipping into the state budget, bans all advertising, and calls for product testing to ensure consistent and accurate dosages.

Requiring business licenses not only brings self-sustaining revenue, but is important for corporations, owners and employees, according to Gregory Zuckert of Whitefish. Zuckert is the vice-chairman of Montana Cannabis Industry Association.

“The initiative is crafted so it is easier to get through to the voting public … and rigorous enough … to show legislature they voted for something very specific,” Zuckert said. “Everything has to go back through the legislature, and they’ll take their shots at it as well.”

The historical road to medical marijuana access has been rocky.

In 2004, citizens’ initiative I-148, the Medical Marijuana Act, passed by 62 percent, legally allowing access to medical marijuana in Montana. Although access to medical marijuana is not legal at the federal level, the government allows the 23 states with such access to self-regulate. Yet federal raids in 2011 resulted in more than 30 indictments, jolting Montana lawmakers to either end the program or severely limit access. They then voted to repeal access with the passage of SB 423. This caused the medical marijuana law to get tied up in Supreme Court through two legislative sessions. Earlier this year the Court ruled to continue to allow access, but conservatively limit providers to three patients each and to review physicians who give more than 25 referrals, among other restrictions. Because patients must be certified by a doctor, those obstacles make access nearly impossible for more than 12,000 current patients who legitimately need the drug, according to supporters.

MTCIA filed an appeal to the recent Supreme Court ruling, and was granted a four-month transition period before those limits are enforced.

Zuckert is hoping lawmakers will take the issue seriously in the 2017 legislative session.

 “We’re presenting them with a responsible and accountable regimen to regulate medical cannabis, and they have a choice of embarking on a journey to fix the program,” Zuckert said. “They don’t have to throw away their ideology, but they do have to step up to the plate. It is time to address it in a mature way.”

If passed, I-182 would repeal the Supreme Court restrictions immediately. The new items, like licensing, would go into effect June 30, 2017.

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