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Hundreds Apply for Medical Marijuana in Montana After Court Rules to Reopen Dispensaries

Montana voters approved an initiative to restart their state’s medical marijuana program. A judge ruled that the new law should take effect immediately.

Since the ruling from a Montana judge that ballot Initiative 182 should take effect immediately, hundreds of patients have signed up for the state’s medical marijuana program, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports.

While medical marijuana has been legal in Montana since voters approved Initiative 148 in 2004, a majority of patients were left without legal access for months this fall after a bill originally passed in 2011 placed significant limitations on the number of patients providers or caregivers could assist. The law hadn’t been implemented until August of this year because of delays caused by court challenges. When it did go into effect, thousands of registered patients were left without providers and dispensaries were forced to close.

The new initiative passed by voters this past November overrides the 2011 bill, removing the strict limitation applied to providers. Because of a clerical error, the new law wasn’t expected to take effect until June 2017, but on December 7, District Judge James Reynolds of Helena ruled that Initiative 182, approved 58 to 42 percent by voters, should take effect immediately. The ruling essentially restarts the statewide program.

“The folks that are maybe the most in need are the least able to provide, to grow their own,” Judge Reynolds said, according to the Associated Press. “I think speed is more important than niceties.”

In November, prior to the ruling, there were 7,558 enrolled medical marijuana patients in Montana and 6,557 of those were without a designated provider.

“There are a lot of people who suffered unnecessarily through this because they didn’t have access,” Bob Devine, owner of the dispensary Spark1 in Bozeman, told Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “That was the whole intent of (I-182): to provide access as quickly as possible to patients.”

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In the two days following Judge Reynold’s ruling, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services received approximately 1,300 patient applications for medical marijuana.

While the judge’s ruling helps to get Montana’s program back on the right path, several providers have said there will be a delay before production catches up, patients are able to reconnect with providers, and things are running as smoothly as they were before the 2011 law took effect.

“It’s great that it will be back on track,” Rick Whatman, owner of Around the Clock Cannabis, told Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “But just because it passed doesn’t mean the next day everything will be the way it was. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”

Not only does the new initiative remove the provider and caregiver limitations, it provides for marijuana testing and annual inspections of dispensaries, and adds post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of approved conditions. Under Montana’s law, patients with a written statement from a doctor can get access to medicinal cannabis for cancer, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS, severe pain, peripheral neuropathy, hospice treatment, PTSD, and chronic or debilitation conditions that produce cachexia, severe nausea, severe muscle spasms, or seizures.

Read the entire report from Bozeman Daily Chronicle here.

Learn more about Montana’s cannabis laws by visiting our education page.