Cannabis on Supreme Court docket

The Montana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday on separate appeals filed by a medical marijuana industry group and the state of Montana. They are appealing separate portions of a 2011 District Court decision that temporarily blocked parts of a much stricter 2011 state law from being implemented. The court will hear the case of Montana Cannabis Industry Association and others against the state at 9:30 a.m. in the court’s chambers on the third floor of the Justice and State Library Building, 215 N. Sanders. The court is limiting oral arguments to two issues from District Court Judge James Reynolds’ ruling:

n Whether the judge erred in blocking the law’s ban on medical marijuana cardholders compensating providers for marijuana products and its limit that a provider can provide pot for a maximum of three cardholders. There had been no previous restrictions on compensation or the number of cardholders a provider could serve. The state appealed these parts of Reynolds’ decision.

n Whether Reynolds erred in denying a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the entire 2011 Medical Marijuana Act as the Cannabis Industry had sought instead of just the five sections he blocked. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association appealed this part of the ruling.

At issue is Senate Bill 423, which was one of the major bills before the 2011 Legislature and subject to many amendments. The Legislature passed SB423 only after Democrat Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed a bill passed by the Republican controlled House and Senate to repeal the 2004 voter-passed initiative to legalize the use of marijuana for certain medicinal purposes. Schweitzer let SB423 become law without his signature, but registered a number of objections to it. “SB423 , in its entirety, is an unconstitutional broadside on the rights of Montanans,” wrote Bozeman attorneys James Goetz and Devlan Geddes for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association and others. “The central problem with the act … is that it is calculated to deny all reasonable access to medical marijuana.” Goetz and Geddes devote much of their brief to defending medical marijuana as a valid medicine for a number of people, quoting some plaintiffs testifying about the “life-saving” nature of medical pot. They cited the evidence they presented in the June 2011 hearing that marijuana “has important medicinal qualities.” “The evidence shows that, in fact, marijuana use is quite prevalent in our society, and that marijuana use, while not totally harmless, is relatively benign,” their brief said. They compared the state’s attempt to crack down on medical marijuana with efforts by some legislators to restrict abortion. “The parallel to the pattern in abortion cases is obvious,” the lawyers wrote. “Some legislators hostile to abortion, realizing they cannot undo the constitutional case providing procreative rights, have tried to kill the right through imposition of a myriad of onerous regulations.”

The chief problem with the law, the Cannabis Industry Association lawyers said, is that it seeks “to choke off access to medical marijuana for those in need by eliminating caregiver producers.” Meanwhile, the state attorney general’s office defended the law, contending that Reynolds had erroneously applied “a fundamental rights analysis to the production, sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes.” “The District Court’s grant of a preliminary injunction as to the sections of SB423 prohibiting the commercial production and sale of marijuana should be reversed because it relies on an application of the rights to pursue employment and health and of privacy that is at odds with this court’s precedent,” wrote Attorney General Steve Bullock and two of his assistant attorneys general, James Molloy and Stuart Segrest. “This court has already determined that the right to pursue employment is limited to lawful activities. Commercially selling marijuana, however, is illegal under Montana law as well as federal law.” Selling pot has been has been illegal under state and federal law for decades, the state attorneys said, adding: “It is well within the state’s police powers to determine the conditions upon which makes it illegal for medical purposes.” Neither those challenging SB423, nor Judge Reynolds, “cited a single case holding that there is a fundamental right of access to medical marijuana.” The Legislature had before it “a history of abuses concerning the sale of marijuana as well as evidence of an exploding industry and an exponential growth in use rate.

via : Helena IR

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