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Court Decision Snuffs Out Montana’s Medical Cannabis Industry

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The Montana Supreme Court passed a ruling on Thursday that will result in one of the most significant rollbacks of a U.S. medical marijuana industry to date.

The court voted to uphold a provision stating that medical cannabis caregivers can provide medicine to a maximum of three patients — a severe commercial limitation for the state’s 12-year-old medical marijuana program.

Justice Beth Baker wrote in the court’s majority opinion, “The Legislature determined that placing a limit on the number of registered cardholders a provider may assist serves the objectives of keeping marijuana away from large-scale manufacturing operations, making it less appealing to major traffickers.”

Other provisions upheld by the court include a ban medical cannabis advertising and a mandated review process for any doctor who issues more than 25 medical cannabis recommendations.

Montana voters legalized medical cannabis in 2004. Following a period of explosive growth in the industry, however, federal authorities raided several large-scale providers and cultivation facilities in 2011, which in turn prompted the state legislature to begin passing restrictions on the industry. Lawmakers even attempted to reinstate the prohibition of medical marijuana, but that bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

“Yesterday, there were 23 states providing for either full recreational use or medical use of marijuana,” said Jim Goetz, attorney for the Montana Cannabis Information Association. “Today, we have 22 1/2.”