HELENA — A Roundup legislator said Tuesday that he is sponsoring a Republican backup bill that would greatly limit the number of medical marijuana users in the state and squeeze millions of dollars of profits out of the current system.
Rep. Tom Berry said his House Bill 429, introduced this week, would come into play only if HB161, by Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, fails to survive.
Milburn's bill, expected to be debated on the House floor later this week, would repeal Montana's 2004 voter-approved law legalizing medical marijuana.
Berry said his bill is patterned off an Alaska law. In Alaska, a state with a 2010 population of about 721,000, only 339 medical marijuana cards had been issued in 2010, according to the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics.
Montana, in contrast, has nearly 28,400 medical marijuana cardholders through January 2011 in a state with a 2010 population topping 994,000.
A hearing on HB429 is set for 3 p.m. Friday before the House Human Services Committee.
“The crux of the bill really is to take it down to what the voters asked for,” Berry said.
“The voters allowed medical marijuana, but the voters did not go for all these caregivers and shops, and these big growing operations,” he said. “This bill is taking all these big growing operations right out of the formula.”
A leading medical marijuana supporter, Tom Daubert, expressed disappointment over Berry's bill, while acknowledging that the current law needs fixing because of some unacceptable abuses.
“He thinks it's important that few people be allowed to be cannabis patients,” said Daubert, an author of the 2004 ballot measure and founder of Patients & Families United.
“My goal, in contrast, is to fulfill voter intent to protect genuine patients without regard to how many that is.”
Daubert also voiced disappointment that House leaders “don't really want to work on a consensus on fixing the law to meet all concerns by law enforcement, local governments as well as patients.”
“Instead, they seemed focused on punitive approaches from repeal to near repeal,” Daubert said, suggesting they instead ought to take up HB68, by Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, which an interim committee prepared.
Here's how Berry's bill would work:
You have free articles remaining.
“Your treating physician has to validate that you need medical marijuana,” Berry said.
“He's got to validate that he's used other sources of pain medication, which did not work. Then you take that to a district court, and the judge would give you an affidavit saying you are exempt from the banned-substance law for marijuana.”
Doctors would have to specify the appropriate length of time for patients to use medical marijuana, up to a year, and certify they will continue to serve as their patients' treating physicians.
The physicians would have to supervise the patients' use of medical marijuana and “evaluate the efficacy of the treatment.”
Physicians found guilty of providing false information on affidavits could be face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Patients could grow their own medical marijuana or certify their caregivers, listing the addresses where the caregivers will grow the pot.
Caregivers would not be approved by the court if they had been convicted of a felony or were under supervision of the Department of Corrections or a youth court.
Caregivers could grow medical marijuana for only one person apiece with a court order, unless they are simultaneously caring for two or more persons who have obtained court orders allowing them to grow medical marijuana and they are related to the patients by blood or marriage.
The bill also would forbid the use of telemedicine by physicians to obtain information for patients needed to issue the affidavit.
In addition, HB429 would allow law-enforcement officials who suspect people are driving impaired to administer blood tests.
Berry also would ban the use of medical marijuana in schools or on school property, or in plain view of the public.
Landlords would not be required to allow tenants to use medical marijuana.
“So what we're doing is we're taking the money factor totally out of this deal,” Berry said.