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Medical marijuana debate continues in Montana district court

By Jordan Moore, KTVM Reporter, jmoore@ktvm.com
Published On: Apr 16 2014 07:10:29 PM MDT
Updated On: Apr 16 2014 10:02:27 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

We continue to follow the latest developments in the ongoing battle over Montana medical marijuana.

Attorneys for the state say the court should make a ban on the commercial sale of marijuana permanent, and uphold provider-patient limits. Those are two of the restrictions state lawmakers passed as part of a sweeping overhaul of state medical marijuana in 2011.

Helena District Judge James Reynolds ruled several key provisions were unconstitutional. However, the State Supreme Court disagreed, and sent it back to Reynolds' court.

It is a story we have followed for years, and the issue has more than a decade of history in our state. In 2004, Montana voters passed an initiative to legalize medical marijuana.

More than five years later, the industry boomed, with more than 20,000 Montanans holding medical marijuana cards. The most recent data shows that number is now down to around 8,000.

On Wednesday we took a look at the bigger picture, will Montana legalize recreational marijuana like Washington and Colorado?

Our first stop Wednesday afternoon was Sensible Solutions, a medical marijuana dispensary in the Belgrade-Bozeman area. Co-owner and operator Mike Singer tells us they have had the business for more than 4 years.

"Our focus right now is strictly medical marijuana; that is what we got into the industry for," said Singer.

Singer's business is benefiting from the injunction, and says he serves on average 10 patients a day. He tells us he is optimistic about the status of medical marijuana in Montana.

"I would like to think we are poised to continue as a medicinal marijuana state for sometime," said Singer.

But he is also closely watching Washington and Colorado.

"I haven't heard any negative reports from the recreation legalization down there," said Singer.

NBC reported in March that Colorado brought in a total of  $3.5 million in marijuana taxes and fees in January.

Montana marijuana advocates fighting the strict state are also considering plan to bring recreational marijuana to voters in 2016, but not every thinks recreational marijuana is right for Montana.

We spoke to State Senator Jeff Essmann over the phone Wednesday afternoon.

"I don't think recreational marijuana will assist the ability of our young people, our culture, our country to compete in a quickly changing world," said Essmann.

Essmann, who is from Billings, worked on the bill that cracked down on the medical marijuana industry. Over the phone on Wednesday he cited studies that reportedly show its harmful effects, and told us recreational marijuana is counterproductive.

"A study by a northwestern university, it indicated that there were changes to the brain that were observable in MRIs from even casual use of marijuana," said Essmann.

On the other side, Singer says he can see the benefit of recreational marijuana, but for right now he not thinking that far ahead.

"I think that marijuana is probably here to stay, whether its recreational or medical," said Singer.

A serious effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Montana likely won't happen before the 2016 election year. A 2014 ballot initiative had been approved for signature gathering, but organizers told us they were shelving the plan in favor of reworking it. They say changes could be to possibly to be more like Washington or Colorado, and get it before voters in 2016.