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Cannabis Dispensaries Gear Up For Law Changes

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Cannabisdispensaries gear up for law changes


BILLINGS — With Montana’s new,stricter medical marijuana law going into effect in less than two months, manypeople who grow and sell cannabis are making plans to liquidate theirbusinesses.


Hiedi Handford of Lincoln,publisher of Montana Connect, a statewide magazine for medical marijuanapatients and caregivers, said she figures about half the caregivers are alreadyplanning to bail out, while the others intend to stay in business in case thenew law is overturned.


“They’re staying and fighting,”she said, and though she’s not a grower herself, she plans to join them. “Igrew up here. I’m not going to run away.”


Proponents of medical cannabisare still hoping that Gov. Brian Schweitzer will veto Senate Bill 423, thoughSchweitzer has said he intends to let it become law


without his signature.


SB423 is intended to clamp downon the industry, making it much harder for people claiming “severe chronicpain” to get medical marijuana cards. It will also require largemarijuana-growing operations and storefront dispensaries to shut down by July1.


The bill will create a new systemin which people authorized to use medical marijuana can either grow their ownor obtain it without compensation from a provider who can grow it for up tothree people.


Mark Higgins, the owner ofMontannabis, a business that grows marijuana for 200 to 300 medical cannabispatients, said he plans to be out of business before July 1.


He’s considering having anauction or selling his $65,000 worth of equipment on eBay. He also plans tosell all his remaining marijuana, since the new law will require him to turnover whatever is left to law enforcement authorities before July 1.


“There ain’t gonna be any left, Iguaran-god-danged-tee you that,” he said.


Higgins, who served on acommittee created by the City Council to propose local regulations for themedical cannabis industry, said he will vacate his 4,500-square foot building,for which he pays monthly rent of $1,600. His monthly payroll, for fouremployees including himself, is $10,000. He also has a monthly power bill of$1,500 to $2,000.


Higgins isn’t sure what he’ll donext, but he said he is considering working as a consultant in another statewhere medical marijuana laws are more liberal. One thing he won’t get involvedin again is growing marijuana.


Producing the cannabis puts a“target on my back ... 3 miles wide,” he said.


The fact that medical marijuanaproponents are preparing to fight SB423 in court or at the ballot box doesn’t affecthis plans. Even if the law were overturned, Higgins said, he would be gettingout of the business.


Although his business wasn’ttargeted when federal and state agents executed 26 warrants on marijuanabusinesses across the state in March, Higgins was rattled by the raids.


“I’m already a criminal in theeyes of the federal government, and it bothers me, to say the least,” he said.


Handford said other caregivershave said the same thing — that the federal action is more frightening than thechanges to state law.


“The feds are definitely wavingthe fear stick,” she said.“That’s their job. ... They want to drive itunderground.”


One of the patients served byHiggins is Terry Truley, 58, who was in Montannabis on Wednesday to buy somemarijuana to deal with the pain of what she said was her stage 4 lymphaticbreast cancer, which has metastasized into her bones.


She said she did a lot ofresearch before deciding to use Higgins’ services last year, saying his was“probably the most respectable storefront I encountered.”


She said she might trying growingher own marijuana after Higgins closes his shop, “but it’s not as easy asgrowing tomatoes out in your garden.”


She doesn’t like the alternative,which would be going back to“heavy-duty narcotics.” She said she doesn’t handlenarcotics well and probably wouldn’t be able to drive again if she startedusing them, stranding her at home. She used to lose eight to 10 pounds somemonths because narcotics suppressed her appetite, she said, but Higgins hasgiven her strains of cannabis that got her eating regularly again.


She can’t imagine finding someonewilling to provide her with free cannabis, as provided by the new law, andshe’s sorry to see Higgins go.


“I think it’s really a shame,”she said.


Police Chief Rich St. John,meanwhile, said he’s still not sure what direction enforcement of the new lawwill take. He said he will have to consult with the city and county attorneysto determine what kind of violations would be involved, say, if a storefrontmedical cannabis provider were still open on July 1.


The owner conceivably could becharged with misdemeanor or felony distribution or possession of marijuana, orit could be addressed as a simple code violation, he said.


Once those questions areanswered, St. John said, the department will need to come up with a plan toenforce the law, probably by communicating with the various licensed providersto make sure they are in compliance with the new law.



Michael A. Komorn


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Attorney MichaelKomorn’ practice specializes in Medical Marihuana representation. He isthe President of the Michigan MedicalMarijuana Association (MMMA), a nonprofit patient advocacy group with over20,000 members, which advocates for medical marihuana patients, and caregiverrights. He is also an experienced defense attorney successfully representingmany wrongfully accused medical marihuana patients and caregivers




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