In 2004, citizens of Montana voted to pass Initiative 148 which would legalize medical marijuana. It passed with 62% support. What was instituted shortly afterward was one of the most legally restricted and controlled medical marijuana programs in the United States.
In 2011, Montana passed Senate Bill 423 to expand the state’s list of qualifying medical conditions for legalized medical cannabis use. However, by 2016, voters had passed a new initiative that helped remove many of the excessive restrictions on medical cannabis.
In May of 2019, Montana announced new legislative changes that will go into effect in early June. These changes will impact both the legal protocols followed by medical cannabis dispensaries, and alleviate restrictions Montana patients encounter when seeking medical marijuana and purchasing products in dispensaries.
Montana requires that patients have a medical evaluation and written statement from a physician before they can submit for a medical marijuana card. On June 2, 2020, Montana amended three medical marijuana restrictions that have made access to MMJ increasingly difficult for patients.
The first restriction is that physicians were previously limited to have only three medical cannabis patients. The intention was to ensure quality care by making sure that patients were carefully supervised in their therapeutic use of medical cannabis. However, rather than promoting more patient/doctor time with this legislation, patients in Montana faced extreme difficulty finding an available physician who was a licensed marijuana doctor.
The patient limit for marijuana doctors in Montana also complicated short-term medical marijuana card certifications. It is the physician’s discretion whether to recommend long-term use of medical marijuana (with the annual renewal of the MMJ card) or a shorter-term duration (i.e., for post-surgical healing or to ease symptoms for temporary health complications). With a shortage of available physicians, individuals with short-term medical marijuana access found it difficult to extend their certification or appeal for long-term use.
The second restriction made purchasing medical cannabis for licensed patients very difficult. Patients were required to be “tethered” or registered with a specific dispensary. This meant that they were only permitted to purchase medical cannabis from that one dispensary in the state of Montana.
Tethering medical cannabis patients to one dispensary created problems for patients who moved to new areas of the state. It also significantly restricted the patient’s ability to shop for products not offered by their tethered dispensary. They also missed out on price reductions or discounts offered by other dispensaries.
The third restriction that has been amended is the weekly limit to medical marijuana that certified patients can purchase. To date, medical marijuana cardholders in Montana were only permitted to purchase a set daily amount of 1 ounce of medical cannabis or a total of five ounces per month.
The limitation required patients to purchase their medical cannabis from a licensed dispensary on a weekly basis. During the COVID-19 outbreak, this resulted in an unreasonable infection threat for patients, many of which suffer from auto-immune deficiencies. This made them more prone to infection risks by forcing them to visit dispensaries so frequently. Fortunately, Montana MMJ patients can now purchase their maximum monthly limit of medical cannabis at one time. Amounts of purchased medical cannabis are carefully regulated and tracked by a statewide health portal.
Learn more about the legislative changes for dispensaries, and for licensed medical marijuana patients in the letters provided by the State of Montana.