Open Letter to Governor Schweitzer Regarding SB423

Open Letter to Governor Schweitzer regarding SB423,
Medical Marijuana Policy Courtesy of a Keystone Cop Process

A guest post by Kate Cholewa of

Dear Governor Schweitzer,

I know you have many issues on your plate and a record number of idiotic bills coming to your desk. I hope you have a moment to consider the process by which the legislature came to develop SB423. The process was like watching the Keystone Cops making law. The result, the conference committee report on SB423, is a thinly veiled repeal of the medical cannabis law in Montana.

An interim committee met over the summer and came up with a bipartisan bill, HB 68, which created a licensing structure for medical cannabis businesses. Rep. Sands chaired this committee and spearheaded the bill. A big part of the discussion from Sands, the interim committee, and at the time, law enforcement, was the need for storefronts so that this system would be out in the open – zoned, yes – but not operating under the radar. So the far-sighted business people did what far-sighted business people do, they opened storefronts, if they didn’t have them already, and positioned themselves for compliance.

Sen. Lewis also forwarded a regulatory bill, SB154. The provisions in it stacked the deck, favoring some in the medical cannabis workforce over others. The overall model didn’t drive quality. But that’s not what did it in. The bill included a 10% tax on growers, some of which was slated to be used to fund senior services. But the tax wasn’t going to fly with Lewis’ fellow Republicans. The bill was D.O.A. At the hearing, Sen. Lewis presented a substitute bill, which has come to be known as the Grey Bill. It was a clunky piece of work though it better represented what kinds of regulations were needed than did SB154. To a lesser degree than SB 154, it also played favorites with the work force. Some provisions were silly. But it really doesn’t matter. Sen. Lewis wasn’t really behind it. He tossed it on the table and turned and walked away just to vote for repeal later. But this isn’t really surprising. This sort of thing is Lewis’ M.O.

(More after the break)

Sen. Essman had a bill to kill the program by making a chronic pain referral impossible to get. Rep. Berry had a bill that repealed the current system and made it so that if you were caught with cannabis but could prove you were using it for medical purposes, you wouldn’t get charged. This bill, HB 429, was then later used as the base for a potential committee bill from the House. But this effort was abandoned.

Sen. Vuckovich had a bill, SB193, which tweaked current law based on provisions Arizona had adopted. His bill was sent to the Senate Public Health committee even though the other bills were going to Senate Judiciary. Then the bill was re-referred to Senate Judiciary but a hearing wasn’t scheduled until it was too late for transmittal.

And then there were the raids timed to coincide with the vote on the repeal bill, HB161, in Senate Judiciary. There is ample evidence that a handful of Republican legislators knew the raids were going to happen. We have yet to hear whether those raided were in violation of state law. But even if they were, or some of them were, the timing and political collusion is deeply disturbing.

Because HB161 to repeal medical marijuana laws in Montana failed, the Senate Judiciary decided they needed to create a committee bill to regulate the program. They formed a subcommittee that claimed to be reviewing all the legislation that had come before them in order to create this new legislation.  But what they ginned up in a couple of meetings was yet another new model. This model eliminated dispensing centers of any sort. It created a ridiculous courier system wherein the patient calls the grower to place an order and then the patient calls a courier to pick the order up. The courier then calls law enforcement and reports that s/he’ll be shuttling a tincture and two brownies – or whatever it might be – between the addresses of the grower and the patient. The business model for the growers was an unclear 5-member Board (sort of) of a nonprofit which could grow up to 95 plants. The bill also cut all chronic pain patients off in August and required them to reapply under more expensive and onerous requirements. The bill did nothing to raise the quality of the medical protocol, product, or business practices. Oh yeah, and it assigned licensing to the Public Service Commission (PSC).

Rep. Sands came in to testify in support of the bill which was troublesome to patients and advocates. After all her work with the summer interim committee it was difficult to understand how a person could go from supporting a structured licensing system with an emphasis on storefronts after months of work to thinking the clumsy model that came out of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee was worth going on the record in favor of.

That was during the committee hearing. During 2nd reading on the Senate floor, Senators Wazenried, Van Dyke, Erickson, and Caferro all made efforts to amend the bill, SB423, that came out of Senate Judiciary. Wanzenried’s amendment to allow growers to transfer product among themselves succeeded. Van Dyke’s to move it from the PSC to the Department of Agriculture succeeded, at first, but then was changed so that licensing would sit with the Department of Labor. Erickson had tried to fix the onerous chronic pain provisions and Caferro tried to amend in dispensing centers. But those amendments failed.

Then, the bill was transmitted to the House.

Despite the good amendments by Wanzenried and Van Dyke, SB423 was still unworkable. In the House Human Services committee, Rep. Noonan planned to offer a slate of amendments to SB423 that would have gotten rid of the ridiculous couriers and provided a base level of functionality. In the morning, Rep. Sands said she thought they were good amendments. By that afternoon, her position had changed. She slipped into a room with Rep. “Repeal” Milburn, Rep. McGillvray (another repeal guy), and Rep. Berry (go to court, HB429). This group of four came out of that room an hour later with amendments that made SB423 even more oppressive and unworkable. Growers could have one patient only, plus two family members. No compensation for growers. This group did a little press release claiming a bipartisan agreement (much to many Democrats’ surprise).

So the next day at the hearing, there were two sets of amendments that would significantly change the bill. One set, the Noonan set, moved the bill toward functionality. The other set by the group of four moved the bill toward repeal.

The set of amendments that moved the bill toward repeal won out. And by gum, you know it was a good bill by the 200 amendments to it that have been proposed in conference committee since.

How Rep. Sands went from supporting a licensing system, to supporting a nonprofit business/courier model, to supporting a hippie, free weed, grow-your-own model remains a mystery. There’s no internal consistency in her approach, it’s definitely not about party loyalty, and it’s not about her constituents. Her history of working on behalf of reproductive privacy makes it additionally perplexing. Rep. Sands wouldn’t be as pleased with the legislation she’s played a key role in creating if it applied to abortion and required that if you wanted an abortion you would need to find someone who would do it for free, and any doctor who performed more than 15 abortions would be investigated by the Board of Medical Examiners, and for some abortions, you needed two doctors to concur that an abortion would be appropriate. Nothing in Roe vs. Wade talks about clinics and advertising, does it? Then maybe clinics and advertising for abortion services shouldn’t be allowed. That’s the argument they’re using for disallowing medical cannabis dispensing centers, that there’s no mention of them in the initiative thus they shouldn’t be allowed to exist. If a woman committed a felony, what if she could no longer access abortion services? Was the intention of Roe vs. Wade that abortion is available only to women who REALLY need abortions (“need” as defined by legislators)?

(Those other three legislators in that group of four she worked with would be happy to apply all these provisions to a woman seeking an abortion.)

So the bill from the committee of four became the foundation for the conference committee bill. After consideration of 200 or so amendments in conference committee, SB 423 now represents the worst medical cannabis law in the country. Four of the six on the conference committee voted for repeal. SB 423 is not regulation, which is what the voters wanted. It’s repeal in disguise, and despite how time-consuming it was to create, it’s not even a very good disguise. The conference committee bill:

  • Makes it virtually impossible for patients with chronic pain to get a referral.
  • Requires investigations of physicians making more than 15 referrals (and the physician must pay for the investigation).
  • Patients must find someone who will grow cannabis for them for free, and that provider may only provide smokable product or infused products. So a patient has to choose between one or the other.
  • Labs for cannabis testing and quality control are essentially banned.
  • If you are providing cannabis-infused products made in your kitchen for even just a family member, you must by law use separate pans and cooking utensils in order to produce the products. (Are they going to arrest people for making omelettes in cootied-up “pot pans”?)
  • Local government may ban storefronts. This is hilarious. Why would there be storefronts when a provider can only provide for up to three people and must do it for free? Stupid. It’s another example of how divorced from reality these legislators and this legislation is.
  • Because you can only provide for up to three patients for free, those saints who choose to do the work will be doing it out of their homes. So “premise” in the bill now refers to people’s homes. So if you provide medical cannabis to someone for free, your private home is now subject to entry by the state or law enforcement and any area of the premises (your home) must be made available for inspection without delay.
  • Advertising is also banned. No advertising the fact that you’re willing to grow marijuana for free for three people and that law enforcement can now rummage through your desk and nightstand on demand. Phew. Montanans can now sleep safer.
  • Here’s the kicker: As a provider of medical cannabis or cannabis-infused products, you MAY NOT “buy or sell mature marijuana plants, seedlings, cuttings, clones, usable marijuana, or marijuana-infused products.” So good luck finding a seed somewhere and hope the crop is up by the patient’s second or third round of chemo.

There are no patients stepping forward and saying ‘thank you for bringing some standards and quality to the medical cannabis program.’ The people who like this bill are those who like repeal.

Because it is repeal.

It’s a joke.

Kate Cholewa
© 2011

  1. Steve W

    I too am perplexed by Sands amendment votes on this bill, and that she voted to send it out of committee to the respective floors.

    Perhaps she felt if it were bad enough that the governor would veto it.

    i think he will and I hope he does.

    • Sands is anti-marijuana. That’s been pretty clear for a while now. She went into the session with a heavy handed approach to medical marijuana regulation – chopping at the citizen initiative’s standards.

      Any reform should work around the parameters of that initiative. Anything more circumvents the voter’s call.

      That being said, they never bothered to actively regulate, yet alone enforce what they set forth. All regulation was geared towards the users, and not the sellers.

      And as I mentioned, regulations are one thing, enforcement is another. The current regulations they have don’t even work in a way that law enforcement can use them.

      Which is clear – the marijuana raids of what – 7 weeks ago? Not one indictment, just a lot of property damaged and destroyed by the raids – property of not only the business owners, but the property of private landowners that had leased or rented the commercial space.

      Raids in which both the feds and the state law enforcement were part of.

  2. mr benson

    This was no different than HB 516 and a huge must have for the Focus on the Family crowd from Laurel and Ravalli and Billings. Nonsense that accompanied the testimony for repeal, or for this bill, was beyond stupid.

    Please veto this. There were several decent bills on the subject, none went anywhere

    And tell Larry Jent he won’t carry Bozeman in the primary.

  3. DJ

    I am disappointed in all proposed legislation created thus far that allows cannabis medical treatment for one class of society while denying it to others.

    Denial of any medicine or medicinal treatment to someone paying for a past felony or misdemeanor is a dangerous precedent for any state to set.

    Ironically this harmful precedent is being set for the first time in the history of the Constitution of the State of Montana by the legislators through the medical marijuana program itself.

    Is the agreement to forbid cannabis to probationers, even those whose lives have been saved by it, a necessary compromise to make with the republicans in an effort to keep the cannabis program viable as a whole? I don’t think so…..even republicans would not condone denying insulin to a diabetic on probation, because republicans recognize insulin to be a valid medicinal treatment, and republicans also understand the constitutional rights to medication for those who are already paying for a past misdemeanor or felony.

    The entire battle all medical marijuana patients face, (whether on probation or not) is this: most republicans do not recognize cannabis as a valid form of medicine, and at best consider it a privilege, and at worst as a dangerous class 1 drug.

    I feel like the canary in the coal mine. There is more at stake here than my son’s life. The issues taking place here involve the Constitution of Montana’s protections for all citizens, the 8th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, and the ultimate outcome of the acceptance of the entire medical cannabis program and recognition by society of cannabis as a real and valid medicine.

    HB 68 which was presented and tabled in January, which denied cannabis to probationers regardless the severity of their illness, did far more to destroy the credibility and image of cannabis as a medicinal treatment, than to support it. I don’t think this result was the deliberate intention of the writers of HB 68, and I think it was more of an “oversight” or lame attempt to appease and bargain with the republicans. However, to deny cannabis to someone simply for being on probation is an admittance to, and a confirmation of the suspicion that cannabis might actually be a class 1 illegal, or purely recreational drug such as alcohol, and (a privilege), rather than a substance with any real medicinal value. SB 423 has followed in suit along with the unjust and illogical reasoning of HB 68..

    Constitutional rights to life and death issues cannot be bargained or traded away in political maneuvering without a price to be paid for all.

    The bar we set for those we deem “the least worthy or important”, is the exact bar we ultimately will set for ourselves.

    I think legislators in favor of medical cannabis could show their conviction to the House and the Senate more convincingly by recognition of cannabis as a valid medicine for all people, including probationers with immediately life threatening conditions such as seizures, or those with terminal diseases including but not limited to: cancer, MS, ALS, etc.

    For my son (who is on probation), cannabis stopped his seizures, and is the ONLY medication that has worked. Cannabis saves my son’s life daily and allows me to go to work without fear he will have a seizure when I’m gone at work. Cannabis is every bit as much a life-saving medication for prevention of his seizures, as his insulin is for his diabetes.

    • the us government’s seemingly inexplicable obsession to eradicate MJ has been, since the thirties, a class/race war casualty. it started as an excuse for racist police departments to harass and jail those radical be bop jazz musicians who strayed from acceptable white band muzak. fear of “the jungle” still drives MJ opponent’s agendas in cooperation with overly zealous law enforcement.

      the waste of money in this hopeless fight to keep a free people (adults) in this country from choosing a substance which is much less harmful than alcohol will be looked on one hundred years from now as one of the most primitive, stupid and senseless laws ever enacted.

      makes one wonder if we have evolved much beyond the thinking capabilities of the neanderthal.

      • Steve W

        As former Missoulian Dan Baum documented in his book, “Smoke and Mirrors,” The Nixon White knew that cannabis wasn’t a significant public health problem.

        White house aide Halderman told him they knew they couldn’t outlaw rock and roll, being young or being black; So they outlawed the common denominator which was and is cannabis.

    • Steve W

      They crave the power to force people to suffer, because it augments their power so much.

      Cops want your sons medicine as a tool in their law enforcement kit, and it’s inhumane.

  4. repeal is at the capitol now.let’s all call in 406-444-3111 and let our voice’s be heard before it’s to late.

  5. GMK

    I hadn’t heard many of the details of this bill until reading this article. Without a doubt, this bill is set up to make it impossible to be in compliance with it, and to put undue pressure on anybody who chooses to be a provider. The bill should be outright vetoed and don’t bother trying to fix it. It’s designed to be broken.

  6. Pogo Possum

    An open letter from Pogo Possum and a lot of people who voted for Initiative 148 to Kate Cholewa and the Montana medical marijuana industry:

    You lied to us.

    We read the initiative, we listened to your arguments and we watched your commercials. We had compassion for the people you showed us suffering (and in some cases dying) from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, wasting disease, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. We voted to allow “. . . . the limited use of marijuana, under medical supervision, by patients with debilitating medical conditions to alleviate the symptoms of their conditions.”

    Note the words “limited use”, “medical supervision” and “debilitating medical conditions.” That is not what you really wanted and that is not what you gave us. Instead you cheered while 30,000 and rapidly growing MM users signed up and argued that 100,000 more should join the fold. You gave us shoddy looking MM dispensaries popping up like weeds in Spring, million dollar grow operations that turned into out of state export operations and rampant money laundering.

    You gave us thousands of Jason Christ wannabes who took every effort to rub it in our noses. You shouted “the will of the people” and “helping the seriously ill” while turning your head to the roving marijuana caravans that signed up hundreds of people within a few hours who simply plucked a convenient ailment off your handy illness list with no honest medical evaluation.

    You fought every serious proposal to restore this initiative to what voters thought they were approving. You cared more about legalizing marijuana and making millions off the medical marijuana industry than helping the patients with debilitating illnesses that this initiative sought to help.

    Laying the blame on Republican legislators for the recent multi agency federal and state law enforcement raids on marijuana grow operations is disingenuous at best.

    The FBI, IRS and a half dozen Federal agencies do not coordinate statewide criminal actions over 18 months with over twenty Montana state, regional, county and city law enforcement agencies without the knowledge and full approval of the Montana Attorney General’s office and the Governor. If you want to blame someone then blame Steve Bullock and Brian Schweitzer. They knew about it in advance and they signed off on it. Hold them accountable the next time they run for a public office.

    The recent bill to dramatically restrict access to medical marijuana has multiple flaws but it is far closer to the original intent the majority of voters had in mind when they approved Initiative 148 in 2004. Hopefully, the next legislature can improve upon it.

    You blamed everyone except yourselves for the final legislative result. You share a large amount of the blame for the growing voter anger and resentment that shaped this legislation and distorted a well intended and worthy initiative.

    You lied to us and we don’t trust you or your arguments or your accusations. You owe an apology to both the seriously ill people this initiative was intended to aid and to the Montana voters you lied to and betrayed.

  7. Pogo Possum

    Hate to break it too all of you who can’t read the tea leaves, but Schweitzer never planned to veto this bill and the happiest guy in Montana about it is Steve Bullock.

    The FBI, IRS and a half dozen Federal agencies do not coordinate statewide criminal actions over 18 months with over twenty Montana state, regional, county and city law enforcement agencies without thefull knowledge and full approval of the Montana Attorney General’s office. Bullock knew about the raids in advance and signed off on them.

    It is no secret in Helena that the Feds have given the word they will continue to raid and close down grow operations in Montana. While he ducked public criticism after the first Fed/State pot bust, Bullock knows the media and the pro pot industry will quickly connect the dots and blame him for his complicity in future raids unless someone puts an end to it.

    Many of you are either too young or too new to Montana to remember Montana Attorney General Robert “Bingo Bob” Woodall who made a rather infamous name for himself by shutting down local community bingo games throughout the state in the early 1970s. If Schweitzer vetoes the current MM bill giving the green light to more million dollar grow operations and corresponding highly publicized Fed/State pot busts, Bullock will be known as Pot Bust Bullock and have his dreams of winning a Democratic Governor’s Primary go up in smoke.

    This bill is Bullock’s salvation and he knows it. Schweitzer has a similar problem and a similar political salvation. They can now both sit on the sidelines and criticize Republicans while ducking their own role in this whole mess.

  8. Senator Dave Wanzenried (D, Missoula) will be having a fundraiser in Butte to help raise funds for his race to be Governor! He has been on our side against HB161, , He also addressed the Garden City Cannabis Expo, supporting access to MMJ in Montana, .

    He will also be on The Growing Green Show Friday, June, 3rd 5:30-6:30PM on Channel 7 LIVE STREAMING VIDEO!

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