Just over a year ago Missoula began coming to grips with the extent to which our neighbors addicted to prescription drugs will go to secure their next fix. A University of Montana student robbed the same local Walgreens three times in five weeks, stockpiling Oxycontin, Vicodin and Xanax in his apartment. The robberies brought into view what law enforcement officials have known for a long time—that pharmies present a much bigger problem in Montana than meth or any other drug.
Missoula received a couple more ugly reminders of that last week. First, a woman brandished a gun at the Safeway pharmacy on West Broadway and demanded pain pills. She remains on the loose. Then, a UM student pulled up to the Walgreens drive-thru window on N. Reserve Street and threatened to blow off the pharmacist's head unless he handed over pills. A third person robbed the Brooks Street Walgreens on Sunday, but he apparently only wanted cash. How quaint.
These spates bookend a year that saw Montana's medical marijuana industry grow exponentially. Last March the state recorded about 1,400 registered medical marijuana patients. This March, there are more than 10,000. Despite the rise, we haven't seen strung-out, desperate patients heist any medical marijuana clinics. On the contrary, we suspect that the trend has gotten quite a few people off of the prescription painkillers that have proven so addictive and turned fresh-faced college kids into felons. It all makes us wonder why so many Montana communities are considering limiting or outright banning medical marijuana shops.
On Monday night, the Whitefish City Council voted to strengthen a moratorium on pot shops while it considers a permanent ban. Kalispell has also approved a moratorium, and last month the planning board recommended making it permanent. Hamilton, Bozeman, Belgrade, Great Falls, Stevensville, Lewistown—all are discussing some form of restriction.
We agree that communities should take appropriate measures to ensure that caregivers don't open up shop next to daycares. But we don't agree with blanket bans—it's an over-simplified reaction that essentially continues the ineffective "Just Say No" approach.
We're also puzzled by why so many communities would "Just Say No" to the economic boost the medical marijuana industry provides. Perhaps we've noticed it more than most—just peruse our pages—but in this economy, medical marijuana clinics aren't simply providing a non-addictive approach to pain management, they're perhaps the only places in town creating jobs. Then again, Walgreens might be hiring.