By The Associated Press
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is lowering its fee for medical marijuana cardholder registrants by about 94 percent. The department, which administers the program, announced the change this month. As of Saturday, people renewing or applying for a new medical marijuana card will pay $5 instead of $75.
"The fee change is necessary because current program revenues are in excess of what is needed to operate the program," Jon Ebelt, a health department spokesman, said in a statement. "Fee changes have occurred in previous years when warranted."
Registration fees from cardholders and providers cover most of the cost to administer the program. The outgoing fee of $75 was set in 2012. At that time, the program had run at a deficit of $500,000 annually for the previous two years, Ebelt said.
The Montana Legislature did appropriate additional funding for the Montana Marijuana Program to deal with an explosion in the number of registered cardholders. Those appropriations went unused, however, after lawmakers passed SB 423 in 2011, which curtailed the program.
Instead, the health department raised its fees to cover costs.
Though SB 423 wasn't fully implemented due to a lawsuit, the number of cardholders dropped after its passage. From a high of about 30,000 in 2011, there are about 13,000 cardholders in Montana as of June.
Now the health department is lowering its fees because it deals with fewer patients in the registry, Ebelt said. Montana Marijuana Program fee revenues were estimated to reach $375,000 at the onset of the current fiscal year, state records show.