Time for Common Sense on Medical Marijuana

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The Missoulian

In 2004 Montana voters, by wide margin, passed an initiative to allow marijuana use for medical purposes. Persons with specified debilitating conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and chronic pain, could receive a medical marijuana card, if certified by a medical doctor.

This provided blessed relief for some sick people. For example, one witness suffering severe cancer said that he would be “dead by now” if not for medical marijuana because his chemotherapy made him vomit 24 hours a day. He said: “I am sorry. I am passionate about this, it’s the only thing that helped.” Another patient, now dead, suffering from emphysema and other debilitating conditions, down to 69 pounds, pleaded not to have to go back on opioids because they put her in a zombie-like state and she wanted to enjoy her last days with her grandchildren.

Unfortunately, there were abuses—particularly over-certification by a few rogue doctors who barely examined their patients. This was effectively addressed by the Montana Board of Medical Examiners, which clamped down on doctors who did not follow the required standard of care. Although this was the sensible approach, the 2011 Legislature, in a severe overreaction, took separate action, gutting the medical marijuana law.

In particular, the amendment limited medical marijuana providers to only three patients. A Helena district judge recognized the irrationality of such a severe limitation, and immediately enjoined it. From 2011 to 2016, with this and other onerous provisions enjoined, the law worked effectively. Patients in need had access, but the abuses were eliminated.

A representative of the Board of Medical Examiners later testified:

Q. Has the board received any complaints or is there any evidence of abuses related with marijuana caravans?

A. Sir, there just have been no complaints about licenses and medical marijuana at all, either in, if you will, fiscal 2012 or fiscal 2013.

And:

Q. Things have gone pretty well since July 1, 2011 vis-à-vis medical marijuana from the board’s standpoint?

A. I would say the board’s workload on that particular subject has been very, very light if non-existent.

In other words, the 2011 law, without the three-patient limit, worked very smoothly to ensure patient access while, at the same time, curbing abuses.

Despite this, the Montana Supreme Court earlier this year overturned the injunction deferring to the legislative judgment made in 2011. The three-patient limit was reinstated. The reinstatement of the three-patient limit is the death knell for medical marijuana. Imagine if your pharmacist could only dispense opioid pain-killers and its other pharmaceuticals to three patients.

Pharmacists would soon be out of business. Initiative I-182 has qualified for the November ballot. It has been carefully crafted to reinstate the law that worked effectively from 2011 to 2016. Specifically, it eliminates the three-patient limit, which everybody agrees is arbitrary and was designed essentially to kill medical marijuana.

Marijuana, while not totally harmless, is relatively benign. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine found that tobacco was used by 76 percent of the population and 32 percent became dependent. Ninety-two percent of the population had used alcohol; 15 percent had become dependent. Marijuana, including hashish, had been used by 46 percent of the population but had only a 9 percent dependency rate. Yet alcohol and tobacco use are perfectly legal for adults. Neither drug has the compelling medicinal qualities of marijuana.

It is time for a little common sense. The evidence is now overwhelming that marijuana helps some people with certain medical conditions.

I-182 should be supported.