Not long after Election Day, Missoula medical marijuana provider Bobby Long took on his newest patient. He had to move fast. The Ronan man was nearing the end of his life and was rapidly running out of the cannabis he's used to ease his multiple sclerosis, Long explains. But helping one patient meant dropping another. Despite the passage of Initiative 182, Long is currently still limited to just three patients.
"Patients are running out of medicine, they are out of medicine now," says Long, owner of downtown's Flower storefront. "The situation is getting more and more dire."
The problem comes down to a clerical error in the language of I-182—an error that delays rollback of the three-patient limit until June 30, 2017. Medical marijuana advocates are hoping the Montana Legislature will address the situation when it convenes in January. Long has even posted online appeals for Gov. Steve Bullock to step in. In the meantime, elation over I-182's strong electoral success has given way to a frustrating and painful waiting game for providers and more than 10,000 patients who have lost access.
"It's been really difficult to see how many people are suffering," says provider Katrina Farnum of Garden Mother Herbs. "I've had people who are not past clients of mine who have come to me and said, 'What can I do? What can I take?'"
The clerical error isn't Farnum's only post-election concern. With the Aug. 31 implementation of a new set of industry restrictions, scores of suddenly provider-less patients across the state had their medical marijuana cards revoked. Obtaining those cards, which are good for one year, can cost patients considerable time and money in physician visits and state fees, Farnum says. But with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services not reinstating those cards, she's fearful of the added burden on patients that re-registering and navigating the inevitable paperwork backlog will entail.
"There's going to be like two months every year that the state has thousands and thousands and thousands of people's paperwork to process, which is going to be mind-blowing," Farnum says. "And it's not going to happen quickly."
In the face of these difficulties, Farnum and Long are continuing to do what they can to help those they can't provide for. Farnum has tried to find alternative herbal remedies to alleviate pain, nausea and sleeplessness. Long continues to use his downtown storefront as a photography gallery and "landing point" for outreach on the medical marijuana issue, though he acknowledges that a further eight-month delay of business would "financially hurt me a lot." Most importantly, both are doing everything they can to address confusion and keep people calm.
"There's a light at the end of the tunnel now," Long says, in reference to I-182. "We just don't know how close it is."