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Montana Medical Marijuana Industry Fights Back [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #683)

In the wake of the passage of a medical marijuana "reform" bill that would criminalize dispensaries and large, multi-patient grows, some dispensary operators and growers are already closing up shop. But others are organizing to undo the legislature's attempt to destroy the industry.

The battle over medical marijuana is far from over in Montana (Image via
The newly formed Montana Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA) has announced that it is moving forward on two fronts: It has hired an attorney to seek a temporary injunction blocking the law from going into effect and it has begun a signature-gathering campaign to put the issue directly to the voters on the November 2012 ballot.

"We are moving forward on the injunction and the referendum," MCIA board member Kate Cholewa told the Chronicle. "The injunction challenges the law. That's one prong. The other prong is the signature-gathering campaign. If we are successful in gathering those signatures, that would keep the law from going into effect and we would be on the ballot in 2012."

Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) vetoed an outright repeal bill passed by the Republican legislature, but he has said that while he finds the second bill unpalatable, he will allow it to become law without his signature. Activists hold little hope that Schweitzer can be persuaded to change his mind before his 10-day period to act ends on Friday.

"That is not something we expect to happen," said Cholewa. "You can't say the door is closed until Friday, but the political environment around here is such that it's unlikely."

Montana voters approved medical marijuana in a 2004 referendum, and the issue was relatively non-controversial until the Obama Justice Department released its October 2009 memo saying that going after people in compliance with state law in states where it is legal was not a high priority. After that, the Montana medical marijuana scene exploded, with the number of patients shooting from 2,000 to 30,000 and the now familiar medical marijuana landscape of dispensaries, grow ups, and supply shops expanding rapidly.

Excesses by some operators in the post-memo period led to a virulent backlash, which was reflected in the legislative session this year. A bill to reasonably regulate medical marijuana that had been crafted over a period of months was amended beyond recognition by foes, who instead then passed the repeal bill. When Schweitzer vetoed that, the Republican leadership responded with the current bill, which also bans any medical marijuana sales, makes it more difficult for people claiming chronic pain to get a recommendation, and mandates investigations -- at their own expense! -- of any doctors who recommend it to more than 25 patients in a year.

This year's legislative session revealed a medical marijuana community that was divided and disorganized. The MCIA is an effort to get growers, dispensary operators, and advocates on the same page for the coming battle.

"The day after the session ended, we all got together in a meeting the next day to figure out what we could do," said Cholewa. "We talked about injunctions and referenda and interview lawyers. We raised $20,000 or $30,000 in 48 hours."

The number has since jumped to more than $50,000, and the MCIA has hired prominent Bozeman attorney James Goetz to challenge the law in court.

"The reality is that this group of legislators came in and instead of regulating the industry, they decided to destroy it with this de facto repeal, said Cholewa. "They were saying that medical marijuana in Montana was a mess, but they've created a mess of a whole different order. 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."

It's also about money and the economy. Medical marijuana is a multi-million dollar industry in largely rural Big Sky Country. The state's economy could suffer if the new law takes hold, advocates said. The state Labor Department has estimated that dispensaries and growers have created between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs, a not insignificant number in a state whose population is under a million.

"Medical marijuana has created opportunities here, where there are people having a hard time finding work. If you talk to people in the industry here, they are people who were carpenters or contractors before the bottom fell out; now, they're cannabis entrepreneurs," she said.

It's not just direct employment, either Cholewa pointed out. "The impact spreads through the economy. Commercial spaces got rented, paid ad space got sold, the supply stores and ancillary businesses benefited as well."

But that's already starting to change, Cholewa said. "People have just shut down, they're getting out now," she said. "Growers are hurrying to get their last crops before July 1. The reality of wiping out the supply is looming. There is a lot of legitimate demand, but I don't know where the supply will be coming from."

Prohibition has an all-too familiar solution to the supply problem. It's called the black market. That's what the good people of Montana can look forward to if the new law isn’t stopped in the courts or at the ballot box. The MCIA is doing everything it can to ensure that it is. 

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Moonrider (not verified)

I'm very happy to see people standing up for what is right, finally!

Thu, 05/12/2011 - 3:05am Permalink
Jrod the Molezta (not verified)

 SO ya'll doughts my flow.Shit you reefer bitches anit nothing but hoez. to slow to react.Az law enforcement crackz ya with baseball batz,how you like knowing the factz. drugZ are wack,they cauz mazz heart attackz.look at that!don't even try to combat that,.go back to your shitterz. learn something become a quitter.I live my life to the fullest alwayz on the edge . Straight egde. I laughted when the governement silenced tommy chongs head.rather he be dead.full of lead.Ya'll just ignorenatilly mislead.. to believe weed is cool;bitches dont be fools.acting like complete a book. pertectulir the bible.  before i get rowled up. up .up. up and awayz with ya.I'ma laugh at cha.weed should never be legalized. try and attempt it. i garrentee the  the federal law will ignite ya.burn youz alive. like your trapped in a bee hive. thinking when you get high you touch the sky.  shit ya dont know cloud nine. ya love my sick a rymes. Thanks for giving me your time, i'll repay you and give you some time back. locked up in a holding cell waiting on death row.. cauz we all know ,we all know ,we all know.drug users are to slow. burie you in the snow till ya frooze in the ground. ya bodys will never be found. ya body they'll be looking for weeks.the cops wont even care about the leaks if someone speaks.they'll shoot them and your memory will be deseast. Drug users are truelly the devils beast sucking on his teets. go rot in hell potheads forget your liberal hippie peace.

Thu, 05/12/2011 - 7:41am Permalink
KinzieGirl (not verified)

In reply to by Anon (not verified)

You got it, friend!!  Anyone that calls themsevles the molesta should be buried alive.  Kudos for dealing with this crackpot the same way he would do to others!!  

Thu, 05/12/2011 - 1:35pm Permalink
KinzieGirl (not verified)

In reply to by Anon (not verified)

You got it, friend!!  Anyone that calls themsevles the molesta should be buried alive.  Kudos for dealing with this crackpot the same way he would do to others!!  

Thu, 05/12/2011 - 1:35pm Permalink
KinzieGirl (not verified)

In reply to by Jrod the Molezta (not verified)

If NOT doing drugs led you to be this ignorant and uneducated (I LOVE your grammer, it's HILARIOUS!!!  Very creative, by the way) then you could be the poster boy for legalization!!  Did you know that the AMA has approved medical cannabis and that by definition cannabis is NOT a narcotic??  Therefore, it is an herb, NOT a "drug"?  Lolz, shows how much you DON'T know about.  Preaching violence??  Good for you.  Poster boy of of failed human being. Good luck to you, bro.  You are obviously gonna need it trying to live that stupid.  

Thu, 05/12/2011 - 1:30pm Permalink
Anonymous1 (not verified)

In reply to by Jrod the Molezta (not verified)

Not really sure what the point of this particular post is supposed to be.  Probably because it is not written in English.  I do not like to try to read stuff when the writer can not spell and relies on bad misspelling to create rhymes.  Plus from what I could understand he doesn't have any real information to share.  If he would study the situation he would know that the message he appears to be trying to share is bull.  Tons of research to show that Cannabis is not a killer drug unless you happen to be in possession of it when the DEA comes to your house.  Then the drug still doesn't kill you, the DEA does.

Sat, 05/14/2011 - 2:29pm Permalink
x1134x (not verified)

None of the patients that are using marijuana now are going to stop because they can't get permission from the state.  The vast majority were using BEFORE the law.  The 1.x BILLION dollar industry has ALWAYS existed in Montana and WILL CONTINUE TO EXIST IN ITS EXACT SAME SIZE OR LARGER.  The choice of prohibition is simply the choice to have society not benefit at all from the transactions.  It does NOT and never will be able to ever stop the transactions.  Cannabis usage will be COMPLETELY unaffected.  You can just go back to pretending that it doesn't exist, but it won't change the REALITY.

Thu, 05/12/2011 - 1:37pm Permalink
lessgov (not verified)

un-american vermin lawmakers and filthy gestapo cops are overriding the will of the people.    they should be tried for treason and HUNG.  

Thu, 05/12/2011 - 3:45pm Permalink

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