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Advocates ask Montana Supreme Court to uphold commercial sales of medical marijuana

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HELENA, Montana — Advocates are asking the Montana Supreme Court to reject the state's push to end commercial sales of medical marijuana, saying that elderly and disabled patients' access would be cut off if they can't buy the drug.

The attorney representing 11 industry advocates, patients, providers and doctors said Monday the medical marijuana industry would die if the high court lifts a Helena judge's block on portions of the 2011 Montana Legislature's overhaul of the medical marijuana system.

"This is indefensible what they've done, trying to shut down commercial traffic for those in need," Bozeman attorney James Goetz said. "There are plenty of people who are just unable to grow their own."

Goetz filed his response with the court earlier this month to an appeal by the state to District Judge James Reynolds' permanent injunction against three provisions of the 2011 medical marijuana overhaul.

Reynolds blocked parts of the law that would bar medical marijuana providers from charging patients for the drug and limiting them to a total of three patients. Reynolds' injunction also prevents the state from enforcing a ban on advertising by providers and from reviewing doctors who certify more than 25 medical marijuana patients in a year.

Other parts of the 2011 law have gone into effect, including stricter requirements for proof of certain medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana and restrictions on providers. The new regulations have helped reduce the number of registered users from more than 30,000 at its peak in 2011 to about 12,000 last month.

Assistant Attorney General Stuart Segrest said in the state's appeal to the Supreme Court that the rest of the law should be allowed to take effect. Eliminating the profit motive of suppliers would further help end the abuse of a drug that is illegal under federal law, he wrote.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Montana since voters approved a ballot initiative in 2004. This is the second time state attorneys have gone to the high court seeking to overturn Reynolds' block on portions of the 2011 overhaul of that voter-approved law.

The state was successful in overturning Reynolds' previous injunction in 2012. The Supreme Court then said Reynolds used the wrong constitutional review standard to make his decision.

Reynolds blocked the provisions again with a permanent injunction when the justices sent the case back to him with instructions to apply a different review standard.

The Supreme Court will take additional filings from both sides before deciding how to proceed, Goetz said.

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