New medical marijuana rules to take effect soon
Recreational marijuana is now legal in nine states and Washington, D.C., with many more expected to come on board over the next couple of years. There are rumblings of getting a measure on the 2020 Montana ballot, but marijuana advocates want to see new rules implemented on the existing medical marijuana law before focusing on recreational use.
Mandatory medical marijuana testing is just one of many new regulations supposed to take effect in Montana this year. That's why Ron Brost opened Stillwater Labs in Olney last summer.
"If marijuana was discovered 10 years ago it would be a miracle drug," Brost told NBC Montana. "It seems to affect so many parts of your system and seems to provide so many beneficial effects, it's something we can't turn away from."
Stillwater Labs tests marijuana for contaminants, mold byproducts, potency and more. The goal is to ensure safety for patients. He says to think of it as a nutrition label or ingredient list you see on foods.
"It's a matter of legitimacy, but most importantly it's for the patients," Brost said. "This is medical marijuana, it's not a recreational material."
But there's a problem. The newest medical marijuana rules aren't clear.
"Even the last year we've seen some ebb and flow with regulations, trying to understand what it means to laboratories, dispensaries and even patients," Brost said.
"Medical marijuana policy in Montana has been a roller coaster," Kate Cholewa said. She's the lobbyist for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.
That's why advocates supported the 2016 initiative voters passed. It clarified the law and added more regulations. But industry experts say a lot of the changes haven't been implemented yet.
"This program so belongs to the people of Montana," Cholewa said. "We want to be assured that it gets implemented in the spirit of those laws."
Part of that process includes making the testing Brost does mandatory. Also new is a seed to sale tracking system for transparency about where the medicine comes from. New rules include implementing mandatory licensing and inspections and allowing post-traumatic stress disorder as an eligible ailment.
The hope is these regulations make the industry more legitimate to opponents.
"Really, for Montana, the important thing -- we wanted to see the black market separated from the program," Cholewa said. "Maybe there will always be a black market, but we don't want the black market hiding in the program."
Until all the new regulations take effect, industry insiders say it's premature to consider recreational adult use of marijuana in Montana. However, they think it's likely we'll see it on the ballot as early as 2020.
"Somebody's going to do it and perhaps even more than one somebody," Cholewa said. "There could be out-of-state interests. Of course there could also be an initiative that is for the people of Montana again. I think if the people want it then certainly an initiative will pass."
But before Montana groups get involved in another campaign Cholewa says they want to watch what happens to medical marijuana carefully.
"There's more work to be done on the rules," she said.
She hopes the rules live up to what Montana voters want, because they will affect tens of thousands of people in the Treasure State -- patients and people like Brost who make a living off the industry.
To see a full list of the new medical marijuana rules click here.