I think it’s a real sign of the times that The Missoulian, local newspaper for Missoula, together with Lee Enterprises newspapers in Helena, Butte and Billings, has just run a three-day report on issues surrounding Montana’s swiftly growing medical marijuana industry.
The series opens with the story of Barb Trego, one of 15,000 Montanans to carry a medical marijuana card. Ms Trego suffers from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome; she also has two discs missing from her spine. To deal with the effect of these conditions, chronic pain and muscle spasms, doctors prescribed analgesics (pain relievers) and muscle relaxants. Ms Trego says she was taking up to 60 pills at a time to deal with her symptoms. She says, ‘I was on so many narcotics, my life was going on, but I wasn’t participating in it.” In her early fifties, Trego felt that her life was coming to an end. Today, just a couple of months after becoming a legal medical marijuana patient, Trego managed to smile at the reporter, telling him that marijuana – which was recommended by a friend – had changed her life. Nowadays, this former semi-invalid holds down a part-time job, sleeps well at night, and enjoys activities she thought were lost to her forever.
Despite this tale with a happy-ending, lawmakers say that the state’s current medical marijuana laws are broken and need fixing. Not all of those 15,000 registered cardholders are legitimate, says Senator Dave Lewis. Along with Senator Jim Shockley, Lewis has introduced a proposal in order to correct the ‘broken’ laws and seeks tighter controls on medical marijuana use.
The Helena senator accepts that medical marijuana is effective for some people but questions whether 12,000 to 15,000 Montana inhabitants need it. He says teenagers have told him how they have successfully obtained medical marijuana cards at cannabis fairs within the state simply by saying they suffer from a ‘bad back.’
Lewis has recently announced a plan that will see a single marijuana grower licensed for the entire state. This single grower would be licensed to grow and dispense the drug via state licensed dispensaries. The result would be state control of medical marijuana supply.
In what is probably a dramatic understatement, Lewis reports that ‘a lot of people aren’t happy.’ Within three days of announcing his plan, Lewis’ received over 300 emails and, he says, more telephone calls than he could answer.
It has to be said, however, that staunch supporters of legal access to medical cannabis, while they may disagree with Lewis’ stance, also believe there are problems with the current state of marijuana law in Montana. Many supporters and consumers blame high-profile cannabis users for exploiting the law and giving all marijuana users a bad name.
Take the case of Holly who, in terms of her politics, could not be further removed from Lewis – yet the both blame the same person, Jason Christ, for the current negative attitude to medical marijuana in Montana.
Christ is the founder the Montana Caregivers Network in Missoula, and he openly exploits the law. When asked to respond to these accusations, Christ told the Missoulian that his sessions are ‘not pot free-for-alls.’ Whether or not that is true we have no way of knowing, however, Christ hasn’t helped the majority of medical cannabis users by smoking pot publicly in front of the state Capitol and the Missoula Police Department.
“It’s embarrassing to the rest of us,” says Holly. “He’s going to influence just enough legislators who are of the conservative variety, and there it goes. He’s being a big ass about it, and that’s the kind of people we’ll be looking to weed out.”
It seems to me that, in reflecting the situation in their own environs, the Missoulian are, in fact, reflecting the situation in most legalized US states.