Pictured in the Missoulian smiling in front of a marquee that reads “Gone Till November,” George Zachary stands as one casualty of Montana’s war on medical marijuana. Zachary was a clerk at The Marijuana Company, a dispensary in Butte, Montana and lost his job when The Marijuana Company joined all the other dispensaries across the state in closing for operation by yesterday’s Aug. 31 deadline. The result of a battle between patient advocates and the state drawn out since 2011, the closure of all the dispensaries represents the final passage of Senate Bill 423. The bill repeals Montana’s Medical Marijuana Program and replaces it with all new provisions: caregivers can provide for no more than three patients; the state can make unannounced inspections; doctors who recommend more than 25 patients a year will be reviewed and advertising is strictly banned. The new hope for medical marijuana in Montana now lies in a reformed medical marijuana bill, Initiative 182, and will be decided by voters in the Nov. 8 election.
The shuttering of hundreds of dispensaries in Montana – including its three largest Lionheart Caregiving, Bloom and Montana Buds – represents a significant upheaval in the history of medical marijuana in America. The closures follow a February setback by way of a Montana Supreme Court decision that upheld the 2011 changes and concluded that the state’s existing medical laws do not permit dispensaries. The Missoulian reports the closure of dispensaries statewide leaves 13,170 patients enrolled in the Montana Medical Marijuana Program as of July, without clear access to their medication until the election.
“I’m not looking back, I’m moving forward,” Lionheart Caregiving owner Chris Fanuzzi told the Independent Record. “It’s my ethical duty to return everybody’s calls, to try and help people find a provider.
“The bottom line is [the three-patient restriction] is going to create an increased price for an inferior product, and none of that revenue is going to be taxable, because it’s going to be purchased illegally.”
Montana adopted medical marijuana in 2004, and experienced explosive growth – rising from about 1,000 patients to more than 25,000 from 2008-2010. A series of sweeping DEA raids in 2009 proceeded the restrictive 2011 law. I-182 would raise the state’s three patient to caregiver ratio, but the AP reports due to a clerical error, if passed still might not come into effect until June 2017.
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