Medical marijuana supporters seek program changes
January 26, 2007
Mike Dennison, The Missoulan (MT)
HELENA - It's been two years since Montana voters approved “medical marijuana” use by people with debilitating diseases, and some 280 people are signed up to use the drug.
But the program needs some tweaking, its supporters say, and they're asking the 2007 Legislature to make it easier and less risky for patients to obtain and use the drug they need.
Erickson is sponsoring House Bill 311, which would make several changes in the two-year-old program that allows certain chronically ill patients to use marijuana to ease their pain or medical condition.
On Monday, HB311 comes before the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing at the state Capitol.
Under the current program, a patient can use medical marijuana only after he or she is diagnosed by a physician as having a “debilitating medical condition” and registers with the state. Debilitating medical conditions include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, severe muscle spasms or chronic pain.
Patients and their registered “caregiver,” who may be a relative or friend, are allowed to possess up to six marijuana plants and one ounce of marijuana.
HB311 would change the law so diagnoses also can be made by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and so registered patients and caregivers can possess six “mature” plants and up to 12 ounces of marijuana.
The bill also creates a new category of person who can possess the drug: a “transporter,” who is someone delivering the drug to a registered patient.
An eastern Montana man who is a registered patient and who grows marijuana for five other patients says the changes in HB311 make the program more workable.
As many as 75 percent to 90 percent of marijuana plant seedlings either die or don't produce the active element of the drug, so being able to possess six “mature” plants makes more sense, he says.
Some patients also may consume one ounce of the drug in a few days, so harvesting 12 ounces at a time is simply more efficient, he adds.
“Patients can be threatened with jail for doing what the voters intended they do,” he says. “I think the bill would prevent this problem, by allowing patients to grow enough plants to produce the medicine they need and to bring it to their bedside.”
The man did not want his name used, saying he's worried about possible harassment by law enforcement or others.
He says the “transporter” category is needed to protect people who bring the drug to registered patients. He says he knows one patient in a rural, eastern Montana town whose elderly mother comes to his house to pick up the marijuana.
“She feels a little spooky picking up the medicine,” he says. “On the ride home, if she were to get pulled over, she's in possession of something that could send her to jail.”
Erickson carried a bill in the 2003 Legislature to legalize medical marijuana, but it was killed. Supporters of the program then took the issue to Montana voters in 2004 via an initiative. It won with 62 percent of the vote.
Erickson notes that the 2004 ballot initiative won approval in 97 of the state's 100 House districts and 48 of its 56 counties. If lawmakers vote with their constituents on HB311, it should have no trouble passing, he says.
“We have a compassionate population, and I'm hoping we have a compassionate Legislature,” Erickson says.