This was an absolutely devastating week for medical marijuana patients in Montana. Many people are saying that this is officially the end of what used to be one of the best programs in the country. Wednesday marked the day that the new restrictions in Montana took effect. This caused cannabis dispensaries from all around the state to close. Thus, leaving thousands of patients with no way of accessing their medicine. The patients may still be registered with the state, but they have virtually no legal way to purchase cannabis anymore. The biggest restriction that caused so many dispensaries to close their doors is the new law that limits cannabis providers to a measly three patients per provider. Obviously this isn’t a realistic business model for any dispensary to consider, and there are literally not enough providers registered in Montana to meet the demands of the 13,000 registered medical marijuana patients. The majority of these patients will be left with virtually no way to continue to medicate.
These restrictions will truly decimate the medical marijuana industry in Montana. Advocates are estimating that 12,000 patients will be losing legal access to cannabis, because they weren’t one of the lucky 3 patients to be chosen by their providers. Montana cannabis advocates voted to legalize medical marijuana way back in 2004, but they’ve spent most of the last five years trying to overturn a state law that set up these restrictions back in 2011. All of these court battles have been unsuccessful, and now the restrictions have officially gone into effect as of Wednesday. The 2011 state law also said that any doctor prescribing cannabis to over 25 patients a year would be under automatic review, and all advertising for cannabis would be illegal. These two restrictions would be very hard to work around by themselves, but accompanied with the unrealistic 3 patients per caregiver rule, dispensaries don’t stand a chance. This is one of the most noteable rollbacks of any state, regarding medical marijuana policies. While the rest of the country seems to be pushing forward, Montana just took two giant steps back.
Most dispensaries said their goodbyes to their patients on Tuesday, with many of them offering massive discounts or literally giving their extra product away. Hopefully as many patients got as much as they possibly could this week, because only 1,900 of the state’s registered patients have told the state health department that they plan on growing their own, or were able to keep their provider. There are more than 8,600 other registered patients that haven’t figured out what they plan to do yet. These patients in limbo will supposedly received a 30 day extension card from the state, to give them extra time to make new arrangements. It is virtually impossible for all of those patients to figure something out in that time frame, because we can’t expect everyone to grow their own and the majority of the providers are going to have to majorly cut back. In July, Montana had 488 registered pot providers and 304 of them supplied to more than 3 patients. The new restrictions have sliced that number down to just over 300 registered providers left in total. They can only provide to 900 of the state’s patients at most, not even 10% of the total. There is a ballot initiative for this November that could overturn all of these restriction and hopefully bring Montana medical marijuana back to its glory days, but it will need the support of most every cannabis advocate in the state.