Proponents of marijuana legalization have much to celebrate right now, as seven states voted on Tuesday to officially legalize the drug in some form. In Montana, however, these celebrations are happening for the second time, as the state voted to expand existing medical marijuana laws that have recently come under threat.
The Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative, or I-182, passed on Tuesday by 57.6% to 42.6%, giving citizens the chance to fight back against a Senate decision that sharply limited residents' access to medical marijuana. Though medical marijuana was first legalized in Montana in 2004, the Montana legislature repealed the existing legislation in 2011 with the passage of Senate Bill 423.
The 2011 bill was a response to supposed abuse of the medical marijuana system, with approximately 31,000 registered patients using medical marijuana before SB 423 passed. SB 423 limited medical marijuana providers to have no more than three patients each and required any doctor who prescribed marijuana to more than 25 patients to be reported to the Board of Medical Examiners and undergo a state review. The bill also allowed law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities and added expensive obstacles for chronic pain sufferers seeking a prescription.
The law officially went into effect on Aug. 31 of this year, following a lengthy legal challenge that ended with the Montana Supreme Court ultimately ruling in SB 423's favor. Since taking effect, SB 423 has forced medical marijuana dispensaries to close and has left more than 12,000 Montana patients without the ability to legally access the medical marijuana they need.
Luckily, the passage of I-182 will now reinstate many of the restrictions forced by SB 423. The new initiative removes the patient restrictions on doctors and providers, gives the state — not police — the authority to conduct inspections and removes obstacles for chronic pain patients. The new provision also now provides access to medical marijuana for veterans and other Montana residents diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, in addition to cancer and the other "debilitating medical conditions" already covered by the existing laws.
In a statement, Montana Citizens for I-182 treasurer Jeff Krauss celebrated Montana voters' decision to "make the compassionate choice," saying that he and his colleagues were "thrilled" and "heartened that patients ... will once again have access to the medicine they need."
Krauss continued, "Today, we replaced a system that was built to fail under SB 423 with a responsible and accountable medical marijuana law, one that will work for Montana and ensure that patients who need it, continue to have access."