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HELENA — The new Montana Cannabis Industry Association said Monday that it raised $50,000 in five days to hire prominent attorney James Goetz of Bozeman to challenge the recently passed medical marijuana law if Gov. Brian Schweitzer lets it become law on Friday.

Schweitzer has said he will let Senate Bill 423, passed by the 2011 Legislature, become law without his signature.

“We raised it with phone calls, electronic networking and community meetings,” said Kate Cholewa, a board member of the Cannabis Industry Association. “People care deeply about this.”

She said the association is overwhelmed by the support it is receiving to fight the bill.

“It’s about more than marijuana now,” Cholewa said. “It’s about democracy, the Constitution, health care and the fulfillment of compassionate voter intent. This is big.”

She said the 2011 Legislature didn’t fix the state’s medical marijuana law, but made it worse for everyone.

“The people of Montana aren’t going to take the decimation of Montana’s medical marijuana law lying down,” Cholewa said.

“And people clearly understand that SB423 was designed to obstruct what voters intended, make it impossible for patients to obtain physician recommendations and to obstruct access to safe cannabis, regardless of a person’s medical need and necessity.”

The law repeals the current law and imposes new provisions such as requiring the state Board of Medical Examiners to investigate any physician who has made more than 25 referrals for patients to get medical marijuana in a 12-month period.

The physician under review would have to pay for the costs of the investigation.

“This alone does extraordinary damage,” Cholewa said “Doctors have told us they will no longer make referrals under the new law, no matter how severe a patient’s condition.”

The group said last week that it wants Goetz to delay the new law’s implementation and then get a court to strike it down entirely.

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This delay will give the association time to collect the necessary signatures needed for a referendum to suspend the law and keep it from being implemented. Then voters in November 2012 would vote whether to keep or reject SB423.

SB423, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, would repeal the 2004 voter-passed law that lets certain people in Montana use marijuana for medical purposes. It would put more restrictions on the industry, including some aimed at making it harder for people to obtain medical marijuana cards.

In response to Cholewa’s comments, Essmann said, “The law was intended to deal with abuses. If they want the abuses to continue, they have every right to go to court. I’m hopeful that the attorney general will provide a strong defense of the law that was passed by the overwhelming support of the Montana Legislature.”

As for the reviews of physicians, Essmann said state statistics show that 85 percent of the Montana physicians who have recommended medical marijuana for patients have done so for less than 20 patients apiece.

The bill requires that those patients claiming “severe chronic pain” must obtain either objective proof from a physician or an opinion from a second physician confirming it.

“We did so because of the strong suspicion that the tens of thousands of cardholders under 40 with severe chronic pain diagnoses may not be legitimate,” Essmann said.

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