Gov. Brian Schweitzer will allow a major overhaul of Montana's medical marijuana act to become law, the governor told the Chronicle editorial board Friday afternoon.

Schweitzer was highly critical of the reform bill, which will allow caregivers to serve no more than three patients and bar people from accepting money for medical marijuana.

However, he said he cannot allow the Montana's current medical marijuana law - which has allowed marijuana businesses to flourish and the number of marijuana patients in Montana to balloon beyond 30,000 people - to continue.

"With the structure we have in place now, we have people using Montana law to smoke marijuana just to smoke it. That's what I believe," Schweitzer said.

He said he will not sign the bill. However, under state law, bills passed by the Legislature become law if the governor does not act within 10 days of receiving the legislation.

In the final days of the session, Schweitzer had tried to amend Senate Bill 423 to allow caregivers to have up to 25 patients and allow them to make money from selling medicinal pot. Using an amendatory veto, Schweitzer also struck language that he said violated people's privacy rights.

House and Senate Republicans on Thursday accepted the amendments dealing with patient privacy but held firm to the three-patient and no-profit provisions.

Schweitzer criticized the plan on Friday, saying it will de-centralize marijuana growing in the state, making it more difficult to monitor where the drug is going.

"We're going to have 10,000 people growing marijuana. Let's say 90 percent of them are on the complete up and up. That means 10 percent are selling marijuana in the alley," he said.

Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, said he is not surprised the governor would accept the bill, and defended its tight provisions.

"We worked closely with law enforcement with what their views were and how they would want the law to be changed," he said.

Raids and warnings from U.S. Attorneys sent the legislature a signal that the federal government was taking a harder line against medical marijuana than previously thought, Berry said. Schweitzer's proposal did not go far enough in complying with federal law, he said.

"How could we as a state of Montana pass a law that was going to be totally contrary to federal law and, I think, put patients at risk?" he said.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana advocates have argued that the bill is unrealistic, since it asks people who are severely ill to care for their own plants, and will push people to buy marijuana illegally. They also warned that the reform bill will put thousands of people out of work.

"It is nothing but a black market, prohibition bill," Jim Gingery, executive director of the Montana Medical Growers Association, said. "It's going to result in 10,000 lost jobs. It is disastrous to the state economy."

Schweitzer was skeptical of the argument that the law will make it nearly impossible for legitimate users to get marijuana.

"My guess is there will be a very active business in not producing marijuana, but selling grow-boxes to help people to grow marijuana," he said.

Schweitzer was unequivocal about the effect the law will have on marijuana businesses across the state, some of which provide pot to hundreds of people.

"July 1, they're out of business," he said.

Daniel Person can be reached at dperson@dailychronicle.com or 582-2665.

 

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