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Panel kills effort to expand medical-pot law
Rep. Julie French, D-Scobey

HELENA - A bill to let physician's assistants and nurse practitioners certify patients to use medicinal marijuana stalled in committee on a party-line tie vote Monday.

The House Human Services Committee voted 8-8 on whether to approve House Bill 73 by Rep. Julie French, D-Scobey. The vote means the bill cannot advance; unless the vote changes, HB73 is likely dead.

All eight Democrats on the panel supported the bill. All eight Republicans opposed it.

Montana voters in 2004 passed a law allowing people with a "debilitating medical condition" to use marijuana, if a physician certifies that the benefits of the use outweighs any negative health risks.

Current law says only physicians may certify patients to use medical marijuana. In that respect, French told members of the House Human Services Committee, Montana treats marijuana differently from all other drugs.

Nurse practitioners and physician's assistants already may prescribe all other drugs, including addictive narcotics like oxycodone. HB73 would treat marijuana like any other prescription drug, she said.

French and other lawmakers said the bill would benefit chronically ill people in rural areas where there are few, if any, doctors.

"I think it's important for our rural areas," said Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula. "They have just as much right to things that are legal and medical as people who live in Missoula."

However, lawmakers who opposed the bill said they worried medical marijuana was being abused and that it needs more restrictions than other prescription drugs.

"We're dealing with a narcotic drug here," said Rep. Michael More, R-Gallatin Gateway.

Tom Daubert, founder and director of Patients and Families United, a group that supports medical marijuana in Montana, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the vote, especially because all eight of the lawmakers who voted against HB73 represent areas where a majority of voters passed the medical marijuana initiative in 2004.

It passed by a 62 percent margin, winning in all but a handful of counties.

"The electorate was saying they want patients in need to have access to this medicine," he said.