Another Setback for Montana Medical Marijuana Industry, Dispensaries as Court Denies Request

The medical cannabis industry in Montana – already on the verge of collapse – suffered yet another setback this week when the state Supreme Court declined to revisit its recent decision supporting new restrictions on the industry.

As a result, state officials will send out letters to 5,500 registered patients (or 63% of the total) who currently get their marijuana from providers/dispensaries serving more than three patients, telling them to find new caregivers within 30 days or start growing for themselves, according to the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. The state’s 20 or so remaining dispensaries also will have to shut down if the regulations are implemented.

The move further heightens the importance of the November elections, when residents will decide whether to keep or reject the controversial new restrictions on the medical marijuana industry. The problem is that 44% of registered voters support the regulations, according to a recent poll. Just 31% want to nix those restrictions and go back to the original law. The good news is that a huge share of the voting population – 25% – are undecided, so the election could still go either way.

State officials passed the new restrictions last year as part of a crackdown on the industry, but a District Court blocked several of the tightest regulations from taking hold – including the one that outlaws dispensaries by limiting MMJ providers to no more than three patients. In September, the state Supreme Court overturned that ruling. The cannabis association filed a motion asking the court to reconsider, but that request was denied on Tuesday.

Medical marijuana supporters have now exhausted most of their legal options to save the industry, though a lawyer for the cannabis association plans to seek a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to delay the implementation of those regulations.

The industry group says many patients will have a difficult time getting cannabis under the regulations. According to the association, the average provider in Montana (including dispensaries and individuals) serves 16 patients. Cutting that down to a maximum of three means demand will far outpace supply.

“Given that most patients are too ill, marijuana cultivation is costly, and landlords must sign an affidavit giving renters permission to grow marijuana in the home, I do not expect many will be able to actually grow their own medical marijuana,” said Chris Lindsey, president of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.  “And since providers are already scarce and they can no longer recoup costs, few patients will be able to find anyone to help them.”