Medical marijuana users concerned after Montana court decision


MISSOULA, Mont. - Medical marijuana patients in Montana are worried they won't be able to get prescriptions filled after last week's state supreme court decision.

Thursday justices upheld most of a restrictive law passed by the 2011 legislature. Part of their decision said medical marijuana providers can make money but can only sell to a maximum of three patients.

Katrina Farnum, the owner of Garden Mother Herb in Missoula, said she has no idea who will help most of her 124 patients with their chronic illnesses.

"The people who I've been dealing with for the last two days are in tears and don't know what they're supposed to do," she said.

She's been in business for over 12 years.

"There are a lot of people who are very upset and angry and are sad, and they have every right to be," Farnum added.

Farnum said her customers played by the book. They got their green cards and registered with the state.

"(Medical marijuana) is making life possible for (people) to live in a comfortable realm," Farnum said.

She said the average age of her patients is 55 years old. They deal with chronic conditions like Crohn's disease, pain, glaucoma, MS and cancer.

Steve Zeiler had major back surgery 16 years ago. He said he had to learn how to walk and start many skills over, but credits part of his recovery to medical marijuana.

"Through core strengthening techniques, stretching and cannabis, I have miraculously surpassed my expectations. I have no pain, I am stronger and more flexible than ever," Zeiler said.

Another one of Farnum's customers, a woman named Linda, is moving into hospice care for a torn back spur.

Without constant ice and medical marijuana, Linda said her condition makes her "feel like (she's) being cremated alive." She said the substance soothes and comforts the pain.

Michelle Couvillion was in a car accident in 2003.

"I was in the hospital for 6 1/2 months. I've got 25 plates in my face; I've got titanium rods in my arm and leg." She was also in a coma and suffered a stroke as a result of the accident.

Since she made the switch from pharmaceuticals, Couvillion said she's come farther than anyone thought she could. She said she lost over 150 pounds and went from taking 19 medications to seven with the help of medical cannabis.

"I started raising my daughter again. Oxycodone wouldn't let me get out of bed or do anything," Couvillion added.

Patients say they don't know where to turn once the law is enforced in March.

Farnum said she's worried a majority of her patients are headed into the unknown.

Couvillion said she might have to turn to the black market. Linda said she can't imagine not having access to medical marijuana after 50 years of using it for medical purposes -- the past six through a registered green card.

Zeiler said, "I think about the people who are in much more pain and suffering than I am, and I want them to be able to find a way to get some healing."

Farnum is closing her dispensary at the end of the month, but hopes to continue to help people with other herbal remedies. She has plans to introduce new legislation that advocates for medical marijuana in the future.

If all the dispensaries in the state were to stay open and service three customers, over 12,000 people who say they're in need would be left without cannabis.

Supporters of the supreme court's ruling said they would like to see medical marijuana outlawed and keep people and families substance-free, while others say it should be regulated and approved by the FDA.

To find out more about the number of green cardholders in Montana, visit the state health department's website here.