Montana officials are moving ahead toward finalizing its rules for the state’s medical marijuana industry despite the cloud of uncertainty raised after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama Administration memo that kept federal prosecutors from pursuing marijuana cases in states where pot is legal.
Lawmakers were given an update on on the Montana Medical Marijuana Act during a meeting of Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee hearing at the state Capitol.
"Our agency intends to follow the state law so people with debilitating medical conditions can continue to access the medicine that they need," says Erica Johnston, of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
She says Montanans made it clear through citizens’ initiatives and the legislative process, they want medical marijuana.
The issue became murky after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama Administration’s so-called Cole memo. Basically it directed federal prosecutors to leave alone those businesses that comply with state regulations and instead to focus prosecution on individuals tied to the illegal drug trade.
After the Trump Administration did away with that directive, it remains unclear what individual state U.S. Attorneys General will do.
When asked about that by lawmakers, Johnston says Montana is moving forward to ensure patients are offered a legitimate medical product.
She says the administrative rules will spell out specifics on inspections, testing, licensing and tracking, "What is proven to offer a legitimacy to this business and offer a safe product to patients," Johnston says. "And I do feel confident that we will achieve that."
The 2017 Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill 333 to update Montana's Medical Marijuana law. Under the bill, the deadline to roll out the state’s program is April 30, 2018. Johnston says they want the program to "go live” by March 19, 2018.