The medical cannabis community in Montana is scrambling to assess the damage from a state Supreme Court ruling that could allow tighter restrictions on the marijuana industry to take hold.
In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that prevented the state from implementing some key provisions of a revised law governing MMJ in Montana. State lawmakers passed the revisions in 2011, hoping to curtail the explosion of dispensaries and medical marijuana patients in Montana in recent years by making it harder for patients to qualify for MMJ cards and essentially ridding the state of storefront centers. But a District Court ruling on the matter blocked Montana from implementing several of the changes, including some of the most restrictive.
Still, the revised law – combined with a federal crackdown – severely damaged the medical marijuana industry in Montana: Patient numbers plummeted, and numerous dispensaries closed up shop. Some estimates peg the number of remaining storefront MMJ centers at less than 20 vs. 75 to 100 at the peak. But it did not completely destroy the industry, as the key restrictions were not implemented.
It’s unclear what will happen next. The Supreme Court has now passed the case back to the District Court, telling the judge to reassess the situation in light of the ruling.
“It is not clear based on the language in the Supreme Court’s decision whether or not the injunction is currently in effect, leaving hundreds of medical marijuana providers to wonder if they are currently in compliance with state law,” said Chris Lindsey, president of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.
But it may be moot anyway: The real fate of Montana’s medical marijuana industry lies in the hands of voters, who will decide in the November elections whether to keep or reject the 2011 revisions.
“That’s kind of the silver lining here,” Lindsey said. “Not only do we have the election, but we have the ability for voters in Montana to understand how (the 2011 revised law) is so bad. Now that there’s this specter of the whole law going into effect, and we see how bad the revisions that went into effect already are, there’s panic in the streets. That may motivate people to get to the polls.”
Lindsey will speak at the upcoming National Marijuana Business Conference – hosted by MMJ Business Daily – about the legal challenges cannabis professionals face in today’s environment.