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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Medical cannabis patients need their medicine

The Montana Legislature’s dismantling of the Montana Marijuana Act might have taken nearly five years, but it is finally complete. Of the 13,170 patients in the state using medical cannabis, more than 12,000 lost access to their medicine on Thursday. 

The Montana Marijuana Act was approved by almost 62 percent of voters in 2004, but former Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed the state lawmakers’ attempt to repeal the law the same year, and current Governor and then Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said the Montana Marijuana Act should have remain unchanged.

The regulations in SB 423, written and passed by the Montana Legislature and then the Senate, were approved by the state’s voters in 2012, but the wording of IR-124 was challenged for being misleading. Many thought voting for the initiative was a vote for an unchanged marijuana policy, but only a vote against IR-124 would have resulted in the original marijuana policy going back into effect. It was a classic case of voter education failure.

While roughly 70 percent of Montanans use cannabis for chronic pain, the rest are people struggling with cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress syndrome and many other terminal illnesses. I was one of the roughly 9,200 Montanans using medical cannabis for chronic pain, and what the conservative Montana Legislature and Supreme Court seem not to grasp is that most of these people use cannabis to avoid using addictive prescription opioids. 

I and many others have struggled with opioid addiction treating chronic pain in the past, and we will either be forced to go back on opioids or purchase cannabis on the black market, risking our freedom to live and work in this state.

Providers are now forced to serve just three patients each, and doctors who prescribe marijuana to more than 25 patients have to pay for an investigation that decides whether they keep their certification. Cannabis is the only prescription drug that can cost a doctor her job while never resulting in an overdose death ever.

From 2011 to 2013, prescription drug overdoses were responsible for at least 369 deaths and more than 7,200 hospital inpatient admissions and emergency department encounters in our state, according to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Epidemiology and Scientific Support.

The ruling by the Montana Supreme Court blatantly endorses a black market, but more importantly, endorses the epidemic that is opioid abuse, which will result in more deaths, hospital visits and higher insurance premiums. 

Montana Supreme Court Justices Beth Baker, Laurie McKinnon, Mike McGrath, James Jeremiah Shea and District Court Judge Robert G. Olson, who is sitting for Justice Patricia Cotter, should be ashamed of themselves. You can vote them out of office, along with Congressman Ryan Zinke, Senator Steve Daines and state House of Representatives Majority Leader Jeff Essmann.

If you want to save a life from opioid addiction and restore Montanans’ access to medical cannabis, vote “YES” on I-182 in November.

Anthony Varriano is a contributor to the Ranger-Review. He can be reached at varriano34@gmail.com.

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