Advocates argue that regulations can ensure better protection for distributors
Billings, MT -- Medical marijuana advocates condemn recent arson attempts against two local dispensaries. Two separate attempts to set fire to medical marijuana dispensaries have occurred over the past two days. At both locations, the words "Not in Our Town" were spray-painted on the storefronts. These acts of intimidation come at the same time the city is considering a temporary ban, or moratorium, on new dispensaries, in order to allow for the development of a regulatory ordinance.
"These kinds of attacks are unacceptable and must be investigated," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy organization. "It is also incumbent on the city to quickly develop regulations that will better protect medical marijuana providers and keep everyone in the community safe." ASA is working with local activists to respond to the attacks by holding community meetings and urging greater protection of patients. Patients & Families United, an Helena-based support group, issued a statement today calling on Montanans to unite in strong opposition to targeted attacks on medical marijuana facilities.
In 2004, sixty-two percent of Montana voters passed Initiative 148, the Montana Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA). While the MMMA explicitly allows for caregivers to grow marijuana for qualified patients, the law is more silent on how patients can obtain marijuana by other means, such as through local distribution facilities. Absent much statewide direction, localities are taking distribution matters into their own hands.
Montana's effort to address the need of sick patients to access local distribution of medical marijuana mirrors the efforts in other states like California, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon and Washington. Both Maine and Rhode Island have amended their laws to include state-licensed distribution. The trend to ensure safe access to medical marijuana by establishing licensed distribution facilities has even extended to states currently deliberating new medical marijuana laws, such as Iowa, Kansas, Maryland and Wisconsin.
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Medical marijuana dispensaries began to flourish in Montana after the U.S. Justice Department indicated last October that it would not pursue those in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. However, Montana has two ways of addressing the distribution issue: by locally regulating dispensaries, similar to the regulatory ordinances passed by more than 40 California cities and counties, or by amending state law to implement a more uniform statewide distribution system.
In the meantime, Billings and other cities in Montana have recognized and licensed dozens of distribution centers, providing much-needed access for patients. According to city officials, Billings itself has apparently issued more than 80 business licenses for the dispensation of medical marijuana. "Billings and other Montana cities have the prerogative to develop local regulations," continued Sherer. "However, those same cities should protect the rights of patients and issue clear declarations against these attacks."