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Patients ask to increase stash

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Medical marijuana advocates, citing logistical problems inherent in current state law, petitioned the Montana Legislature to increase limits on the number of plants and amount of dried cannabis caregivers and patients can possess.

Under the voter initiative passed by a record margin in 2004, the law permits authorized residents to have up to six plants and one ounce of “usable marijuana.” The new limits, if adopted, would clarify that only mature, marijuana-producing plants count against the limit and would up the dried cannabis allowance to 12 ounces.

Before a Feb. 6 hearing of the Senate, patients testified that the current restrictions require a non-stop shuffle to restock medicine that can leave a terminal illness sufferer without treatment for days.

Helena defense attorney and medical marijuana patient Chris Lindsey said the law’s shortcomings often force patients toward the black market. He also voiced concern about his own grow operation, which because of the six-plant limit, he has to keep in cycle year-round.

“If I have to keep this thing going all the time, and somebody finds out about this, then I’m a target,” Lindsey said.

Senate Bill 326, sponsored by Sen. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula, would also expand the list of diseases treatable by medical marijuana to include diabetes, hepatitis C and post-traumatic stress disorder. The increased limits are modeled after medical marijuana laws adopted in other states and constitute the more controversial portion of the proposed legislation.

“I have been told it’s hard to grow marijuana—it’s not easy,” Erickson told the committee. “Maybe you start with six plants and only three make it. Maybe none make it.”

Representatives from a handful of law enforcement lobbies, as well as the Montana Medical Association, showed up to oppose the bill. Opponents expressed a particular problem with the 12-fold increase in the legal amount of marijuana a patient could carry.

“We respectfully disagree with proponents that this is in line with what the voters of Montana agreed to,” said Pam Bucy of the Montana Police Protective Association.

The committee took no action on the proposal. It was the fourth medical marijuana bill introduced this session. None have passed.

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