Patients can now register for medical marijuana treatment

December 21, 2004

Jenny Johnson, Ravalli Republic - MT

Montanans who want to use marijuana to treat serious illness can begin registering with the Department of Public Health and Human Services immediately, state officials announced Tuesday.

The office has already received more than 30 requests for application forms.

"We're ready to implement the will of voters, who passed Constitutional Initiative 148 in November," said Roy Kemp, chief of the department's licensure bureau. "We've got a registry system established, and application forms are now available."

Kemp said there has been a lot of interest in the program since the initiative passed from both people who are ill and from people who want to be caregivers.

Montana voters passed I-148 by a 62 to 38 percent margin. Effective immediately upon passage, the initiative allows certain patients with specific medical conditions to alleviate their symptoms through the limited use of marijuana under medical supervision.

The new law also allows qualified patients and their caregivers to grow and possess a restricted number of marijuana plants.

Montana is the 10th state to pass a medical marijuana law. Under federal law, it is still illegal to grow, sell, purchase or use marijuana, even for health-related reasons. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering when and if federal law takes precedence over state law with regard to the use of marijuana for health reasons. A decision is expected in mid-2005.

To be eligible for the program, people must suffer from a debilitating medical condition defined in the Medical Marijuana Act. Such illnesses include, cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, or a chronic debilitating disease that produces cachexia or waiting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures or severe or persistent muscle spasms.

A doctor must certify in writing that the patient has medical condition outlined in the law and to the benefits of using marijuana to treat symptoms. When a patient registers with the state, the department will provide a form for the treating physician to sign.

By law, only medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy may sign the certification, Kemp said.

"A physician can't prescribe marijuana under this law," Kemp said. "They can only recommend it to a patient and then certify that recommendation with us."

The cost to register for the program $200.

"The initiative didn't include any funding for the program," Kemp said. "So we had to come up with a fee that would enable us to administer the program as the voters intended. We tried to keep the fee as low as possible without putting the program in jeopardy. Given the cost of most medical treatments, we think $200 is not unreasonable."


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