District Court Judge Jim Reynolds, who presides over a lawsuit brought by the Montana Cannabis Information Association and other plaintiffs, ruled yesterday that the State of Montana is prevented from enforcing several significant limitations on medical marijuana providers under the current law.
The law as enacted by the Montana legislature would prohibit providers from having more than 3 patients and bans any form of compensation between patient and a marijuana provider. Today's ruling prevents those restrictions from being imposed. According to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), the average provider in the state currently serves approximately 16 patients. DPHHS estimates that if the law were in full effect, approximately 5500 patients, or nearly 65% of all the patients in the state, would have to either find a different provider, or make preparations to grow marijuana themselves.
The court determined this requirement would cause patients across the state "irreparable harm," and therefore ordered the provisions blocked. Oral arguments were heard by the court on December 13, during which several medical marijuana patients and providers testified on the effect the law would have if it were allowed to take full effect.
"This is a tremendous victory and a huge relief," said Chris Lindsey, president of the MTCIA. "We have fought hard over the last year and a half to maintain a functional system, and we are thrilled the court has allowed the medical marijuana program to continue to serve some of our state's most vulnerable citizens."
The court's ruling puts back into place an injunction that was overturned earlier this year by the Montana Supreme Court. The Supreme Court disagreed with the district court regarding the legal standard it originally used to block portions of the law. It required the lower court to reevaluate the basis for the injunction using a different, lower standard for the state law, known as the "rational basis test."
"When the injunction was overturned and sent back, our job became much more difficult. Typically the rational basis standard is an incredibly difficult standard to overcome, and I think many assumed we would fail. But the state couldn't even make the lowest hurdle there is in constitutional review, and the judge recognized the harm that would come to thousands of patients. The bottom line is the state cannot make medical marijuana available to sick people with one hand and take it away with the other. This law is clearly defective and it needs to be fixed," said Lindsey.
"It is a little sad that Lori Burnham, one of the patients who offered testimony at the hearing in December, could not be with us to hear of this success. We will always owe her a debt of gratitude for her contribution to this cause." Lori suffered from cancer, emphysema and glaucoma, and passed away less than a week before the ruling, surrounded by family and friends in Hamilton Montana.
The injunction will remain in effect until the case goes to trial. A trial date has not yet been set.
Press Release From The Montana Cannabis Industry Association