Proponents of medical marijuana tout human interest v. profit motive

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The Missoulian

Katie Mazurek described herself as "uptight" when she was growing up, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she saw that medical marijuana allowed her to continue to be a mother to her children and run her law practice. "I am a little embarrassed that I fell into the stereotype of the fear and shame around it," said Mazurek, of Bozeman.

She first tried medical marijuana on a trip to Washington. She had traveled without her other medication and then remembered she could get marijuana in the state, which made recreational use legal in 2012. "This is really a drug that allows me to engage with my family," Mazurek said. And it's not an opioid, which "scares the living daylights out of me."

Wednesday, proponents of medical marijuana held a conference call to share the reasons they are supporting Initiative-182. The patients, significant others of patients, and politicians argued that I-182 will alleviate human suffering and honor the will of Montana voters, who approved a medical marijuana program for the state in 2004 by 62 percent. Since then, Rep. Ellie Hill said the Montana Legislature adopted SB-423, which is essentially "repeal in disguise" – and evidence of hubris on the part of lawmakers who chose to "defy the will of the people of Montana." Not only did the original measure pass with 62 percent approval, it won in the vast majority of Montana's 56 counties, she said. I-182 "will be the responsible solution," said Hill, a Democrat from Missoula.

Proponents of medical marijuana aim to undo the restrictions imposed by SB-423, which limits the number of patients per provider to three. The limit took effect Aug. 31 after a protracted court battle. Soon after, the count of registered medical marijuana patients with no access to a legal provider quadrupled. This year, Initiative-176, which would have made drugs that are illegal under federal law – such as marijuana – also illegal under Montana law failed to qualify for the ballot. On Wednesday's conference call, I-182 proponents of the measure argued it allows patients access as voters desire, but it also places sideboards on the medical marijuana program that the Legislature could have put into place itself.

Proponent Jeff Krauss, Bozeman city commissioner, three-time mayor, and former Montana Board of Regents member, said it does the following: Eliminates the three-patient limit, which "left 11,800 or so patients dangling." Puts in place a system for product testing to allow for accurate dosages and quality product. Requires annual inspections by the state. Mazurek also said the program is run out of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and aims to be cost-neutral to taxpayers.

Big Pharma is a chief opponent of medical marijuana, and former legislator and former Montana Public Service Commissioner John Vincent suspects the reason is the companies want to keep selling patients opioids. "It's my belief that they're doing that to protect their profits, which doesn't surprise me," Vincent said.