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Medical marijuana providers, patients raise concerns about proposed Montana regulations

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Medical marijuana patients and providers from around Montana came to Helena Thursday to raise concerns about proposed new regulations for their industry.

More than 100 people attended a public hearing on the proposed rules at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services offices. Many said the rules will put too great a burden on providers, especially those serving fewer patients.

“You guys making these guys jump through more hoops, more laws, more costs to the provider, doesn’t do a patient any favors,” said Will Leishman, a patient from Butte.

The proposed rules are the latest step in a major reform of Montana’s medical marijuana industry. Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 333 to overhaul the program. The bill tasked DPHHS with creating rules to fill in the details of the changes.

The rules the agency proposed would raise the price of a medical marijuana card from $5 to $30. The fee for a provider license would increase from $50 to $1,000 for those with ten patients or fewer and $5,000 for those with more. There would be additional charges for things like opening a dispensary or producing marijuana concentrates.

“We cannot afford $5,000 a year for a licensing fee, another $500 to be a dispensary, another $500 to do chemical manufacturing, a 4 percent tax and taxes on top of that,” said Tawnya LaFond, a store manager for a provider in Butte. “We will have to shut our doors.”

The rules also include requirements for all marijuana and marijuana-infused products to be tested in a laboratory before being sold. But some providers argued the process isn’t clear enough, the required testing is too broad and the costs will be too great.

“The new testing requirements are great,” said Adam Ehlers, a dispensary manager from Missoula. “The concerns are that a small provider like us, with our level of monthly revenue, we’re not going to be able to pay for those tests.”

Other providers were unhappy with a rule requiring each employee of a licensee to get a permit – and denying permits to anyone convicted of a drug offense. Several said they currently had employees who would not be able to meet the requirements.

“If somebody’s got a misdemeanor, maybe it’s good for them to have a job,” said Brandon Tillett, a patient and caregiver.

Overall, many said the rules add too many new requirements for providers too quickly. Some called for DPPHS to phase the changes in over time.

“One thing we do know from other states is trying to do everything at once creates a mess,” said Kate Cholewa, government relations consultant for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. “It creates a disaster, everything gets locked up, things don’t move.”

DPHHS will continue taking public comments on the proposed rules by mail, fax and email. Once the comment period ends on Dec. 7, the agency will take all of the public input into consideration and determine whether any changes need to be made to the rules.

DPHHS public information officer Jon Ebelt said the department will finalize its rules shortly after Dec. 7. They will not have to go through a second comment period before being adopted.

Once the rules are finalized, DPHHS will give providers and patients two months’ notice before putting them into effect.

Read the full proposed rule changes on the DPHHS website.

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