They’re called the MTCIA, or Montana Cannabis Industry Association and you can read more about them on their website or on their Facebook page.
I headed to the meeting, which was at the Wingate hotel on Airway Boulevard, way on the outskirts of Missoula.
There was a large meeting/conference room set aside and when I arrived at 6:20 there were 27 people in attendance.
They continued to filter in as I sat down to write.
If I had to put the average age of the people present I’d say 55 to 60-years-old.
Yeah, most of these people were quite old.
That’s not really surprising, however, for when you look at the statistics you’ll find that most people are between the ages of 51 and 60, or 28.7% of all patients.
I will admit that those numbers are from 2014, when I took a hard look at medical marijuana in Montana.
At that time Missoula County had 767 patients and 44 providers.
Since the MT Supreme Court ruling a month ago, however, many of the providers in the City of Missoula have gone out of business.
Perhaps that’s the idea.
Perhaps the idea all along was simply to reduce the medical marijuana numbers further, as had been accomplished with the crackdown in 2011.
At that point there were around 30,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.
By the time they had the ruling last month there were about 8,000 patients.
Clearly, the crackdowns by the state are working…if the goal is to reduce medical marijuana patients and providers.
And why would the goal not be to do that? After all, we see the legislature bringing the law forth that challenged the 2004 voter initiative on medical marijuana in Montana, then the Attorney General hop on the bandwagon to move it along.
Finally last month the MT Supreme Court dealt the death knell for the movement…or did they?
Some medical marijuana providers are still operating, quite a few in fact.
Doctors are still prescribing, though with the recent ruling and the news about Dr. Mark Ibsen, many are reluctant to do so any longer.
In other words, business is continuing in the medical marijuana industry in Montana…just not as usual.
That’s what the Montana Cannabis Industry Association wanted to discuss tonight.
The Medical Marijuana Meeting Gets Underway
They actually had to bring in more chairs to accommodate all the people.
The goal of the meeting was to discuss the ongoing legal actions involving the attorney general’s office as well as to keep people up to date on the near-constant changes.
The woman kicking things off was Katrina Farnum, who represents the Missoula area.
People also came from Butte, Frenchtown, Alberton, and other surrounding areas.
After she got done with the introductions we had Bob Devine speak. He’s the chairman of MTCIA and came forth just recently to lead things off.
Devine mentioned the 6-1 ruling against medical marijuana, which was really a ruling on the 2011 law brought forth by legislator Jeff Essman.
That ruling was not a surprise, Devine mentioned.
Now the goal is to have legal action ongoing so that the transition period can be defined.
By transition period we’re talking about a period of time so patients and providers can deal with the changes.
That’s what the ongoing lawsuit brought by Jim Goetz is all about.
When Devine asked for a show of hands on the number of providers in the room, more than half the room put their hand up.
After that questions and shout-outs got started.
People were ready to talk, they wanted to talk.
It was brought up that we need initiatives, we need competent legislators, and that’s what the people want.
Devine brought it back to the citizen initiative and said how this is imperative. He brought up two main goals that we have now:
- Keeping Jim Goetz on this lawsuit;
- A quality initiative for the November ballot that cements medical marijuana as a right.
Devine mentioned there are other states that have laws and those laws are working. The reason for this is people got mobilized and organized and made it happen.
A woman in a wheelchair spoke up. She understands that providers need to make a living but she’s worried about her medicine.
“Will I be put on a morphine drip in a nursing home,” the woman said while tearing up, “what is going to happen to me?”
Farnum began talking about the medical initiative again, which is currently sitting on Tim Fox’s desk, waiting to get approval.
She mentioned that each person in the room could find something they don’t like about the initiative, but that’s all we got.
Again, that initiative is waiting on approval and it’s sitting on Tim Fox’s desk. He got it on March 18 and has 30 days to get it done.
The necessity of this will become more apparent very soon. By April 18 we’ll get that initiative for signature gathering.
We need 24,000 signatures by June 17 and we literally have a sliver of time to get that…two months.
So that’s 12,000 signatures in April-May and another 12,000 in May-June.
Besides that, those signatures will need to be gathered in all counties across the state.
One man stood up and really got vocal about this, about going around and getting signatures.
He’s a veteran and he was ready to get those signatures. He’d done so in California and he knew what was up here in Montana as well.
He said we did it in Montana before but we didn’t do it right.
- We didn’t keep the organization going;
- We didn’t keep the phone tree;
- We didn’t keep the momentum.
I already saw today that there are ads for signature gatherers on Craigslist and those jobs are paying $15 an hour.
Interviews will be next week.
Devine mentioned this, for M&R Strategic Services has been hired and they have a 91% success rate of getting these things on the ballots.
C.B. Pearson heads up the Montana offices, which are in Missoula and Helena.
Speculation started up about how many signatures have been gathered already for the legalization efforts and I heard many numbers, with 13,000 seeming the most viable.
One woman mentioned that if she’s not hired as a gatherer then people might just focus on the legalization initiatives. Those aren’t paid anyways, so if you’re going to do something for free…why not go for the big one.
Despite that, Farnum again brought up the need to have organization and keep getting those signatures in.
So there’s still some tension between the legalization and the medical folks. How this will play out over the next 10 weeks of signature gathering is going to be interesting.
To answer these concerns a person named Gregory Zucker, a laison to M&R.
- He said that he’s expecting the initiative to be released from Tim Fox’s office by April 18.
- A lobbyist, Kate Cholewa, has also been hired to lobby the legislature and the governor’s office.
- A website will also be set up.
Zucker made it clear that we just don’t know what the MT Supreme Court is going to do.
Despite that, he’s confident that medical marijuana will remain available, storefronts will remain open, and we will have a viable transition period…should that come about.
Zucker said we’d have a lot more leverage with the legislature if we had a law to bring to them, something for the lobbyist to work on with legislators.
MTCIA is also structuring what legislators they want to work with, and there are many. That information will be revealed when legislators feel comfortable, probably after the June 7 primary.
Zucker mentions how important it is to keep things regulated:
- Providers are licensed;
- There is testing for product quality;
- Patients have rights.
In 2011 Senate Bill 423 was never designed to work. It killed all the regulatory measures in the original 2004 law.
SB 423 was brought in during the last hours because they just wanted to kill medical marijuana after the governor vetoed it.
It was never designed to work, just kill.
By bringing a citizen initiative forth it’s believed that the legislature will have the framework it needs in order to make this program work for the state.
One man brought up how most Montanans just aren’t aware of what’s going on, mainly because the media isn’t reporting on this.
This is another facet of the work that M&R is expected to do.
A poll has already been conducted and numbers came back showing that a sizable number of Montanans favor a medical marijuana law.
The three phases of the MTCIA work are:
- Getting the legal action started, which has been done;
- Getting the initiative finalized and signatures gathered for;
- Getting the media blitz started to keep the message alive until November.
The media message will be tailored, it will be succinct, and it will reach people in a way that they say they want to hear.
That’s why the polling was paid for.
Zucker mentioned that it’s essential for providers to raise money. MTCIA can’t ask the patients to do it for them.
Many providers are matching contributions of patients. It’s a very large legal bill that needs to be covered, not to mention the M&R logistics work.
So far MTCIA figures they’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on the poll, the lobbyist and the lawyer.
MTCIA is looking for spokespeople on this issue, mainly veterans and patients.
It’s part of the media and messaging campaign.
On April 8 a social media blitz will start.
The #1 person the public wants to hear from on medical marijuana are veterans and people that are sick with cancer or some other God-awful illness.
It’s all about patient access and getting medical marijuana to the people that need it.
Currently, there’s been a huge hit to patient access because of the MT Supreme Court.
We are in a weird limbo, waiting on the MT Supreme Court to say something, or possibly kick it down to District Court.
Providers are keeping their doors open, however.
Farnum mentioned that the response from providers and patients around the state has been immense.
People are giving money.
In Missoula, however, hardly anyone is giving.
The response in Missoula has been disheartening, depressing, and downright deplorable.
Missoula, the Berkeley of the West, cannot get its act together and support medical marijuana where it counts, with the pocketbook.
Give some money, folks – it’s needed and now’s the time!
Montana Families United
There were some questions about an organization in Montana called Montana Families United.
They’re asking for signatures and raising money. One woman wondered if that money is going to MTCIA.
Some say that thousands of dollars have gone from Montana Families to the MTCIA.
Arguments broke out between Devine and a person in the audience about $5,000 that Devine is being accused of having walked out with.
So these are some of the allegations that are swirling around and dividing things right now.
At that point the meeting denigrated into shouting and arguing and people started get up and on top of it my wife called and said I had to pick her up.
So it got out of hand and took a few minutes to get people organized again.
Zucker got order started and said we’re not here to bash Montana Families United.
The meeting began to get underway again, though about a dozen people had left.
The message did get out, however, that things were alright and that this bashing had to end.
MTCIA is not taking money from Montana Families United, it was announced.
I also had to leave so that's all the news I have for you on this.
So what are the major things to know?
- Lawyers are working to keep your patient access to medical marijuana intact;
- A media campaign will begin on April 8 to push for medical marijuana in Montana;
- The medical marijuana initiative will be ready by April 18;
- M&R Strategic Services has been hired to get that on the ballot;
- We need 24,000 signatures by June 17.
That’s about it in a nutshell.
Let’s try and come together and work to stay confident and upbeat and get this done.