Marijuana Law Creates Tangle of Legal Issues
Now that using marijuana as medicine is legal under state law, legitimate patients don't have to fear arrest anymore. But there's one catch - buying pot is still illegal in Montana.
And that's just one of the gray areas surrounding Montana's new medical marijuana law.
The Montana Medical Marijuana Act, approved by 63 percent of voters in November, allows patients to use marijuana to relieve suffering caused by diseases like cancer, glaucoma and HIV, or by chronic pain.
Many unanswered questions surround the law as it takes effect Saturday, and patients and law enforcement officers are waiting to see what happens.
Montana, and the 10 other states that have legalized medical marijuana since 1996, are also waiting to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court decides state medical marijuana laws trump federal laws prohibiting the drug in the ongoing Ashcroft v. Raich case.
Joining states like Alaska and Maine, Montana will allow patients or their caregivers to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or up to six marijuana plants.
But in order to be protected under the law, residents must first obtain a written recommendation from an oncologist or other medical doctor saying they have a debilitating medical condition and would benefit from using marijuana. Then they have to pay $200 to register with the state, and must pay to reregister every year.
Roy Kemp, who's in charge of creating the registry as the licensing bureau chief for the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, said the fee is necessary to cover the expense of putting the new law into effect.
"There is no intention of pricing people out of this," he said.
The cost of the registry will be divided among patients and caregivers, and the fee has the potential to go down in the future if more people register. So far, his office has received 72 applications.
People who successfully register with the state will get a card they must carry to avoid being arrested for marijuana possession.
The registration process is cut and dried; it's afterwards that things aren't so clear.
The law doesn't provide a legal way for patients or caregivers to actually buy marijuana or the seeds they need to grow plants. It doesn't specify where they're allowed to smoke marijuana ( only where they're not ), and it doesn't address issues surrounding use, such as drug screening for job applicants.
Sgt. Scott Brodie of the Missoula Police Department's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force said officers will still arrest people they catch buying marijuana - whether or not they have a card.
He's worried people will take advantage of the new law, and that fake registration cards will proliferate like fake driver's licenses have, especially since the cards won't have photo identification on them.
Though officers can call the state and check whether the person is really registered, Brodie said this will be a waste of time if every person arrested for marijuana claims to be a patient.
Brodie said officers are unsure whether they should arrest people for possession and allow them to use registration cards as a defense in court, or verify the cards on-site and not issue a citation in the first place.
He also said officers are unsure whether to arrest criminals who steal patients' marijuana plants or supplies.
It will probably take a couple of years for lawmakers and law enforcement to work out all the kinks that will come with the new law, Brodie said.
"( Proponents ) didn't take into account these myriad questions," he said. "I think patients will have to be patient and let all the pebbles fall through the screen."
Questions like these surrounding the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes aren't unique to Montana, though. Other states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana face similar questions.
Oregon residents voted down the idea of state-run marijuana dispensaries in November, despite the fact that thousands of patients in that state use medical marijuana. And the legality of dispensaries in California under federal law still isn't determined.
Krissy Oechslin, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said she thinks states will take a closer look at the supply issue after the Supreme Court makes its decision.
The Marijuana Policy Project financed Montana's Medical Marijuana Act campaign, and tries to help states develop policies to make medical marijuana safer to use and more socially acceptable.
Oechslin said the lack of legal medical marijuana supplies has always been a problem for patients in states that allow its use, and is hurtful to patients who can't grow their own because of the crippling effects of disease.
"As a healthy person, I can't keep houseplants alive, let alone a marijuana plant, which I hear is much more finicky," she said.
She said technicalities like this are moot, though, until the Supreme Court makes its decision.
"Everyone is sitting on their hands and waiting to see what happens," she said.
How typical just as in Canada; any reason out of fear is good enough to wait a couple more years ... (and then a couple more years after that etc.)
Meanwhile, people are suffering and dying because they can't keep their food down after chemo, while others are dying in agony, going blind etc. but hey, let's wait some more! How compassionate?!
And then "God doesn't want us to put this in our bodies" ? What? #1 What does God have to do with this? #2 According to the bible Jesus used marijuana himself as it is written in the Bible that the holy anointing oil called Kaneh-bosm used by Jesus Christ contained cannabis. The THC residue from the plant material would then dissolve in the oil used for anointing. The active substances within this oil would then be absorbed by the skin thus entering the body and bloodstream.
*Industrial-Hemp has no psychoactive properties following definition of the European Economic Community (EEC); THC content is less than 0.3%. In general, low THC-seed varieties without psychoactive properties are those that have a THC content of less than 1%. (See also No-THC Hemp-seed.) THC= Delta-9 TetraHydroCannabinol.
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