POSTED: 8:13 pm MDT April 26, 2011
HELENA, Mont. — It looks like the legislature has finally reached agreement on medical marijuana reforms. With just days remaining in the session, both houses are backing a bill that would drastically overhaul marijuana laws.It was heated debate in both houses over the last ditch effort to reform Montana’s medical marijuana laws. Senate bill 423 overwhelmingly passed both houses Tuesday. The bill takes the money and the industry out of medical marijuana. It also says a person must grow their own marijuana or find someone to volunteer to grow it for them. The bill would likely lead to a significant reduction of the state’s nearly 30,000 legal marijuana users supplied by large grow operations.Rep. Tom Berry (R-Roundup) says, “The initiative, I-148, when the voters voted for it, this brings it back to what the voters voted for. They did not vote for big shops. They did not vote for people selling it like it is. They voted so people could access it and that means for themselves.”Sen. Dave Wanzenried (D-Missoula) disagrees. Wanzenried says, “I don’t think it represents public opinion at all. Does it represent the concerns out there? Absolutely. And are there things we need to do to tighten up the system? Absolutely. But we are going to throw thousands of people with legitimate needs under the bus with this bill.“Wanzenried thinks there are many questions the bill doesn’t answer. He says, “People who want to put an artificial constraint on it by saying you’re going to have to have a volunteer grow medical marijuana is absurd. There’s lots of people who will have it available illegally for them. And I don’t know how they’re supposed to find out who can legally grow it for them in the first place. That was one of the questions that was unanswered.”Rep. Berry knows the bill is not perfect, but also says the state must to severely cut down on the people with access to medical marijuana. Berry says, “I think the bill’s a good bill. It’s not a perfect bill, but I think it’s going to bring some side boards on the situation and get some more control to the medical marijuana situation. Which I think is out of control.”The bill still has to be voted on again in each house. It is expected to pass by the same margins it did Tuesday. Gov. Brian Schweitzer already said he plans to make changes to it, but observers say it’s too late for that. That has many worried Senate Bill 423 will turn people who can’t find someone to grow their marijuana into criminals.