By TOM DIDDEL
Nearly eight years after Montana voters passed the state’s medical marijuana law, the legalities of the voter-approved initiative are still being debated and changed. Currently one of the complex changes to the state’s law is being argued in front of the Montana Supreme Court.
Specifically, the court is hearing arguments for and against overturning a lower court’s ruling that struck down a part of Senate Bill 423 passed by the 2011 Montana Legislature, according to a Missoulian article.
The legislation in question bans the commercial sale of medical marijuana. Originally, the ability to profit commercially from the sale of marijuana, along with the announcement by President Obama’s administration that it wouldn’t prosecute people who followed the medical marijuana laws passed in their states, led to a financial boom for the industry.
The boom busted after Senate Bill 423 took the ability to make profits from the sale of medical marijuana out of the equation. The Missoulian stated that the current number of Montanans holding medical marijuana cards is at 10,640 after reaching a high of nearly 27,000 shortly before the 2011 legislation banning its sale for profit was passed.
Senate Bill 423, revising the commercial aspects of the original law, helped stymie the industry and prompted the Montana Cannabis Industry Association to challenge the commercial ban in court, according to the Missoulian. After a lower court ruling by District Judge James Reynolds, in which the commercial ban on medical marijuana was struck down, the issue is now before the state’s Supreme Court Justices.
The crux of the argument and the reasoning behind Judge Reynolds decision is whether, or not, the ban violates “Montanans’ fundamental rights to pursue their health and wellbeing”.
Attorney James Goetz argued that while the current law allows for patients to grow small amounts of marijuana for medicinal use, it does not take into consideration the large financial investment needed to produce the medicine. In turn, it puts such a monetary burden on the patient that it constitutes a violation of what Judge Reynolds ruled as a fundamental right to pursue health and wellbeing.
Assistant Attorney General James Molloy argued against Judge Reynolds decision questioning if there is “a fundamental right to engage in the sale of a product that is illegal”, as reported in the Missoulian article. Molloy referred to the legal tug-of-war the state is in over with the federal government which declares it illegal to possess, cultivate, or use the plant. The federal government’s decision to actively raid and prosecute medicinal marijuana growers in the state has clouded the law’s legal standing even further.
Montana’s short lived medical marijuana industry will likely never see the enormous growth it witnessed in 2010 even if the state’s Supreme Court upholds Judge Reynolds previous ruling. The state’s medical marijuana patients and providers will still face prosecution on a federal level.
Each week, Tom Diddel recaps the week’s most talked-about story in Missoula. Visit the Make it Missoula News & Opinion section for more talk of the town.
Tom Diddel has lived in Missoula on and off for nearly thirty-eight years. He enjoys skiing, hiking, and many other outdoor activities. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Montana and is currently working as a Freelance Writer and a Para-Educator.