By RICHARD HANNERS Hungry Horse News Hagadone Corporation
With restrictive state regulations set to go into effect July 1, the medical marijuana industry seems to be making headway in its lawsuit to block the new law. Meanwhile, three medical marijuana providers whose businesses were raided this spring were arraigned in federal court in Missoula.
In an effort to block the new medical marijuana laws, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association sued the state in district court in Helena claiming the law violates patients’ right to pursue good health.
With more than 30,000 registered medical marijuana users, Montana has one of the highest adult-user rates among the 15 states that allow medical marijuana use. Feeling the industry had grown out of control since the voters approved medical marijuana use in a 2004 initiative, the Montana Legislature enacted stricter regulations that included a provision that stops providers from making a profit or being reimbursed for their expenses.
When questioned by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association’s attorney, James Goetz, the top medical marijuana regulator for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Service said the new law was difficult but not impossible to interpret and had unintended consequences. Roy Kemp noted that under the new law, for example, a husband could not grow medical marijuana for his sick, card-carrying wife if they lived under the same roof.
The right to health care does not give patients an unregulated scope of options, Assistant Montana Attorney General Jim Molloy said, pointing out that marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law. He also said blocking the law would create unintended consequences.
As the three-day hearing closed on June 22, District Court Judge James Reynolds cited concerns he had with the new law and said he would issue a decision before July. Reynolds specifically pointed to the provision barring profits by commercial medical marijuana businesses. A similar provision does not exist for prescription drug manufacturers, he said.
The very next day, in federal court in Missoula, three medical marijuana providers were arraigned on identical charges of manufacturing marijuana, distribution of marijuana, possession of marijuana and money laundering. Each faced a mandatory five year federal prison sentence and up to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.
Jason Burns, 40, and Jesse Leland, 40, both of Helena, operated the Queen City Caregivers business in Helena. Joshua Schultz, 38, of Helena, operated Natural Medicine, in Great Falls. All three pleaded not guilty.
Their businesses were among 26 businesses across the state raided by federal agents and local law enforcement in March and April. Locally search warrants were executed in Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Olney. Thousands of marijuana plants, hundreds of kilograms of marijuana, cash, weapons and vehicles were seized in the raids. About a quarter of the state’s medical marijuana businesses closed following the raids.
“Marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled narcotic in the United States,” Michael Cotter, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, said about the June 23 arraignments. “Today’s indictment is a step toward ensuring the alleged large-scale distribution of the addictive and dangerous gateway drug of marijuana is curtailed in the state of Montana.”