Montana Voted to Revive Dispensaries. Here’s How It’ll Happen.

Published on November 10, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020
A glacial stream on the eastern side of Glacier National Park.

Congratulations Montana! You just revived your shuttered medical cannabis patient dispensaries by approving Initiative 182, by a wide margin of 57 percent to 43 percent.

Here’s how that’s going to work.

Details, details: Initiative 182 amends Senate Bill 423 and renames the Montana Marijuana Act, which will now be known as the Montana Medical Marijuana Act. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is now officially added to the list of qualifying conditions.

Initiative 182 repeals SB 423’s requirements that medical cannabis providers be limited to serving no more than three patients. The initiative also eliminates the state’s automatic review of physicians who prescribe cannabis to more than 25 patients per year. Under 182, a state license will be required for providers who cultivate and manufacture cannabis and cannabis-infused products.

Medical cannabis providers will be allowed to hire employees to cultivate, dispense, and transport the product.

One of the important aspects of Initiative 182 is that it repeals the power of law enforcement officers and agencies to conduct unannounced inspections of medical cannabis facilities. The new law requires annual inspections of facilities by the state instead of by law enforcement.

For patients

Under 182, qualifying patients will need to register with the Montana Department of Health, which will issue each patient a laminated medical cannabis ID card. Those MMJ cards will be good for one year, at which time they will need to be renewed. Proof of Montana residency, along with the written certification and accompanying statements from the patient’s treating physician, are required to receive an MMJ card.

Registered patients are allowed to possess up to one ounce of usable cannabis and up to 4 mature plants and 12 seedlings. “Usable cannabis” is considered the dried leaves and flowers of the marijuana plant and any mixtures or preparations of the dried leaves and flowers that are appropriate for the use of cannabis by an individual with a debilitating medical condition.

Patients who are minors will have to have their materials submitted by a parent or legal guardian. Patients who are minors are allowed to take cannabis-infused products but are not allowed to smoke cannabis. The parent/guardian of the minor patient will also have to submit to a criminal background check that includes the submission of fingerprints.

The Health Department (DoH) will maintain a register of licensed MMJ patients. That register is, by law, classified as confidential and not subject to disclosure except to authorized DoH employees (to perform official departmental duties) or by authorized law enforcement agencies (only as necessary to verify that an individual is a lawful MMJ card possessor).

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Registered MMJ patients will be allowed to cultivate their own cannabis plants and manufacture their own cannabis-infused products, but only on property owned by the registered patient, or on property rented by the patient and with the explicit written permission of the landlord. If you’re a patient growing your own, you can’t also grow for others, unless that “other” is also a card-carrying MMJ patient and an immediate family member by blood or marriage. If you’re growing at home, those plants must not be visible from the street or other public area.

Patients cannot use medical cannabis in a school, or any school owned or leased property; on any school or public bus; in a jail or prison; in public parks, beaches, recreation centers, or youth centers; on the property of any church, synagogue, or place of worship; in plain view of the general public; or any place where exposure to cannabis smoke will significantly adversely affect the health, safety, or welfare of children. Hospitals and hospice care facilities are really tricky, and we would advise you to look to the letter of the law and/or consult a physician or attorney to figure out the exact legal boundaries.

For providers

Providers will have to pass a criminal history background check, register with the Health Department, and possess an approved state license. (No details yet on what “pass” means, regarding those criminal background checks, or whether lower-level cannabis-related offenses will impact them.) The Health Department will disclose the names of providers and manufacturers to local law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over the provider’s area; those agencies will remain subject to state confidentiality requirements. (Note: This does not apply to patients, only to providers and manufacturers.)

Providers will be allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, 4 mature plants, and 12 seedlings for every registered patient who has named the provider as their medical cannabis provider.

Each grow, manufacturing, or dispensing facility must not be within 500 feet of or on the same street as a building used exclusively as a church, synagogue, or other place of worship or as a school or postsecondary school other than a commercially operated school. Persons with licenses and individuals with valid registry identification cards may not advertise cannabis or cannabis-related products in any medium, including electronic medium.

As for licenses, according to the Initiative 182, the text states that a person previously registered as a provider or cannabis infused products provider may continue to operate as if the person was licensed under the new 182 rule—until the appropriate licensing provisions of the new act are implemented.

To that point, Initiative 182 is set to become effective on June 30, 2017.

Conditions that qualify for medical cannabis in Montana:

HIV+ status
cachexia or wasting syndrome
severe chronic pain, with supporting evidence
intractable nausea or vomiting
epilepsy or an intractable seizure disorder
multiple sclerosis
Crohn’s disease
painful peripheral neuropathy
a central nervous system disorder resulting in chronic, painful spasticity or muscle spasms
admittance into hospice care
post-traumatic stress disorder
any other medical condition or treatment for a medical condition approved by the legislature.

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Gage Peake
Gage Peake
Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
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