Montana continues to tweak its medical marijuana system, which was first written into law 15 years ago. On Monday, the state’s House passed Senate Bill 265, which makes important changes to the program including a temporary tax increase, the institution of doctor recommendations by phone, and the “untethering” of patients.
The change that may well make the biggest difference in the lives of patients is the “untethering” clause, which means that those in the medical marijuana program would no longer need to choose a single cannabis provider, and instead be able to buy from the provider that is most convenient on a given day. The bill does levy other restrictions in return for this new freedom. Patients will have a monthly purchasing cap of five ounces of cannabis, and a daily limit of one ounce of purchases.
“This is all brand-new to Montana; we’ve not really done things to this extent in the past,” the bill’s sponsor Senator Tom Jacobson told a local news site. “We knew there would be some changes that would have to come about.”
Another change that could benefits cannabis patients is the legalization of medical marijuana certifications by phone. This proved to be a controversial proposal, and there was an effort to amend the bill to no longer include the “telemedicine” capacity for patients. But proponents of the proposal held firm — at an average of seven residents per square mile (it’s the third most sparsely populated state in the country), they saw allowances for patients living in remote areas as necessary.
SB 265 also raises taxes on marijuana distributors from two to four percent. The bill passed in the Senate in early April by a 36-14 vote, and on Monday in the House by a decisive 68-32. A final House vote is needed to maintain the bill’s forward motion.
This is not the first revamp of Montana’s medical marijuana program. 2017’s SB 333 instated a quarterly tax on marijuana businesses. As a result, the state reported last year that it had collected $1.8 million off of $45 million of medical marijuana taxes — nearly twice what experts had forecasted. That revenue was earmarked to finance tests, inspections of labs, dispensaries, growing operations, and edibles manufacturers — plus a tracking system that followed cannabis from the planting process to the cash register.
“Ultimately, we see medical marijuana as medicine,” said Representative Zach Brown upon SB 265’s passage. “And so the state has an obligation to provide a regulatory framework that provides certainty for cancer patients and other types of patients, so that they know that their medicine is safe and effective, and they know where it came from.” Brown said he had received comments from Montana cannabis patients that the system was hard to navigate, and that regulations were not being enforced.
A March poll published by the University of Montana found that 51 percent of Montana residents are now in favor of the legalization of recreational marijuana as well. Some respondents based their opinion on the high potential for tax revenues in such a plan.