Marijuana registry fee criticized

December 21, 2004

Allison Farrell, Billings Gazette

HELENA - The state's launch of its new medical marijuana registry Tuesday drew criticism from one of the law's major supporters, who called the $200 registration fee 'exorbitant.' Robin Prosser of Missoula, who suffers from an immunosuppressive disorder, said she's appalled that the state is charging the chronically and terminally ill $200 to get on the medical marijuana registry. The new law protects registered patients and their caregivers from local and state prosecution, even though federal law prohibits possession and use of the drug.

'This is pretty high cost just to get a card,' Prosser said. 'A driver's license doesn't cost that much. It's like charging people for handicapped stickers for their car.'

Confidential list

The new law, passed by voters Nov. 2, created a state medical marijuana registry. Upon written recommendation from their doctors, patients with certain medical conditions are registered on the confidential list and are issued a card that permits them to have as many as six marijuana plants and an ounce of marijuana.

Roy Kemp, head of the state's Licensure Bureau, said the new law didn't come with any funding. He said the $200 fee is necessary to keep the new database and the registration service financially self-sufficient.

'We had to come up with a fee that would enable us to administer the program as the voters intended,' Kemp said in a written statement. '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.'

Prosser, who uses marijuana to ease chronic bone pain, muscle spasms, nausea and headaches, said she wanted to be registered on the list. Prosser, 47, was charged with drug possession and drug paraphernalia possession last May.

Prosser is one of the 30 Montanans who have requested an application for the registry, but said Tuesday that she won't be sending the forms back to Helena.

'I got my application in the mail Friday and I was stunned to say the least,' Prosser said.

The state began mailing registry applications Friday, Kemp said. No cards have yet been issued, he added.

'I've had a lot of calls since November,' Kemp said. 'There's definitely been a lot of interest in this program, both from people who are ill and from people who want to be caregivers.'

Medical conditions

To be eligible for the program, individuals must suffer from a debilitating medical condition, which is defined in the law as cancer, glaucoma, or positive status for HIV or AIDS, a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition that produces one or more of the following: cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures or severe or persistent muscle spasms.

A doctor must certify in writing that the patient has a debilitating medical condition and that the benefits of using marijuana to treat symptoms would outweigh the risks. When a patient registers with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, 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.'

Prosser said she's exhausted from campaigning for the medical marijuana initiative during the election season, and doesn't know if she'll lobby the 2005 Legislature to change or eliminate the $200 fee. But she said the registration fee is prohibitively expensive and should be dropped.

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