A sad day today as The Montana Department of Health and Human Services says it has stopped issuing new medical marijuana cards.
Spokesman Jon Ebelt says his agency is complying with a new medical marijuana law that required the department to stop issuing the cards on May 14.
Despite Ebelt's new statement on Tuesday, the agency's website says the department is still accepting applications. Previously the department said they would continue issuing the cards to patients because of confusion over the law. This is the first phase of a new restrictive medical marijuana law over turning a voter approved law passed in 2004.
"That's great news," said Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, sponsor of the new law, Senate Bill 423. "I wish their website indicated it. It still has got that they're continuing to process them until June 20.
"If they are complying with SB423 and suspending issuance of cards and do not intend to resume issuance until June 1, I'm happy with that."
The recently formed Montana Cannabis Industry Association has mounted a two-pronged attack on the law. It has filed a lawsuit seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional. The group also is planning to mount a signature-gathering effort aimed at suspending the new law until Montanans can decide its fate in a referendum November 2012, if they get enough signatures.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer had a chance to veto the law but declined. The new law gives the department powers to issue cards again using stricter patient criteria after June 1.
SB423 is intended to greatly restrict the availability of medical pot by banning growing facilities and requiring cardholders to either grow it themselves or obtain it from a provider who cannot charge for it and can only grow for up to three people.
The new law imposes much restrictive provisions for patients to be authorized to use medical marijuana for "severe chronic pain," which is by far the most the most common medical reason claimed by those obtaining cards. Currently more than 30,600 people in Montana have a medical card.