Montana’s medical cannabis industry is gone, and won’t return until next summer at the earliest, the will of the voters be damned and damned again.
Legal cannabis in the Big Sky State is the victim of prohibition-minded lawmakers, whose yearslong quest to subvert the will of the voters succeeded in August, and now also a self-inflicted wound from marijuana advocates, who let a “clerical error” sneak into the voter-approved initiative meant to nullify the politicians, according to reports.
The twisty tale works likes this: In 2004, 62 percent of Montana voters legalized medical marijuana for a limited list of serious specific ailments. But apparently too many “healthy-looking” folks managed to get their hands on weed. That was too much for some Tea Party-leaning Republicans in the state legislature, who passed a “reform bill” in 2011 that effectively eviscerated the program.
Caregivers—including dispensaries —could provide medicine to no more than three patients and weren’t able to hire employees to help grow the plants. This made the dispensary business a no-go. (Imagine a liquor store being prohibited from having more than three customers.)
After court challenges to block the legislature failed, dispensaries started closing in August. The number of patients in Montana dropped by half, and of those left, 93 percent had nowhere to find legal weed, according to the Missoulian newspaper.
I-182 was supposed to fix all that—and it did. 55 percent of Montana voters approved the initiative, which eliminated the three-patient cap, repealed a state medical board inspection requirement for doctors recommending cannabis for more than 25 patients, and ended law enforcement’s ability to conduct unannounced inspections of marijuana cultivation operations.
Confident it would pass, dispensaries hung signs reading, “See you in November” after shutting down. Except the bill’s authors apparently wrote “June 30, 2017” as the bill’s effective date, when they meant it to go into effect immediately.
Please keep your stoner jokes to yourselves.
So now unless the same Republican-dominated Legislature that’s spent years trying to stamp out weed does the industry a solid and changes the date, patients are shit out of luck—and weed—until June.
I-182 passed despite discouraging polling that showed the measure behind as late as October. Both cannabis and Donald Trump proved what voters think of polling, as medical-cannabis measures recorded a clean sweep on Election Day, winning in Arkansas and North Dakota as well as Montana.
Advocates may try to convince the Legislature that it’s a good idea to do what the voters want and give them some legal weed, but there’s no guarantee that lawmakers will listen. The winning personalities who chair the state’s Republican Party declined to tell the Missoulian what they plan to do, and the state’s governor also declined to comment.
However, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who vetoed the original weed-killing bills with a cattle branding iron—a fine display but ultimately frivolous, as the Tea Partiers in the legislature overrode the veto and the bill passed anyway—thinks he knows what the diehards will do: Try to repeal this new voter initiative, just as they did before.
For now, weed is slightly less popular than the lawmakers — in one district, a Republican won with 72 percent of the vote, and weed passed with 57 percent — so until there’s a true marijuana-fueled voter revolt in Montana, this ridiculous child’s game appears likely to continue.
As will the serious consequences, which, it should be noted, have included the death of a child who could no longer access life-saving cannabis oil. Nice work, fellas.