Marijuana Losing Traction in Montana

Despite huge gains in the 2014 midterm elections, marijuana isn’t popular everywhere. In rural and conservative states, some voters look suspiciously at marijuana and will not vote for it in any form. In the case of Montana, you could say that the citizens are not so much suspicious as much as they are suffering from buyer’s remorse.

In 2004, Montana voters overwhelming approved Initiative I-148, which legalized medical marijuana with 62 percent of the vote. The initiative was broad and included little regulation for the new market. Consequently, the Montana legislature repealed the legislation in 2011 with Senate Bill 423 and replaced it with a tightly controlled market meant to discourage the use of medical marijuana.

Under Senate Bill 423, medical marijuana dispensaries were banned, caregivers (now dubbed “providers”) were limited to only three patients at a time, and said caregivers (“providers”) were no longer allowed to accept any compensation for their services.

The result of SB 423 was catastrophic to the industry and patient numbers plummeted as a consequence. In 2011, there were more than 30,000 medical marijuana patients in Montana. Today, there are a little over 8,000. SB 423 didn’t solve anything, it just made problems worse, leaving sick people in Montana without the medicine they need.

SB 423 also makes it illegal to lab test marijuana. With patients reliant on “providers” for their medical marijuana, there is little to no oversight or testing on the marijuana given to patients by providers.

Speaking with KTQV, Steve Zabawa of Rimrock Auto Group complained that Montana lacks quality control for marijuana. “We’re giving people marijuana that’s never been tested and it has mites in it and all sorts of issues and we’re saying that’s ‘medicine’?”

Despite his concerns, Zabawa is not an advocate of marijuana. Zabawa made headlines this year by trying to ban marijuana altogether in the state. With only 3,000 signatures, Zabawa fell beyond short of the required 24,174 signatures required.

In 2012, the Montana Cannabis Information Association filed a lawsuit against the state in an effort to delay or strike down SB 423. Although the lawsuit is still ongoing, the MCIA was able to get a temporary injunction on several provisions while the case is being decided.

The blocked provisions are as follows: the prohibition on marijuana advertising, the prohibition on providers receiving compensation for services, and the limit of only three patients per provider. The final ruling on the case will be decided in the coming months, although no date has been set at this time.

Investors, take note, this is what happens when you fail to properly regulate the marijuana industry. Montana clearly had momentum to implement a strong yet regulated industry, and instead it left the market to the wolves.

It is important to push for meaningful reform and regulation, wherever you live. No one likes extra rules, but unless you want out-of-touch politicians making poor decisions, as happened in Montana, then by all means do nothing and let the industry decline.

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