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When John Lackey heard the news that the Montana Supreme Court ruled to severely restrict sales of medical marijuana, his first thought was, “We’re through.”

“I used to be proud to be a Montanan, but I’m not anymore,” he said. “It’s not a great time for a lot of people in Montana.”

The Feb. 25 decision upheld parts of a 2011 act that limits cannabis providers to three patients, outlaws advertising and enforces physician reviews — effectively sounding the death knell for most of the state’s 471 dispensaries.

The 70-year-old Lackey, an investor for Big Sky Gardens, a dispensary outside of Four Corners, plans to pick up and move to Oregon at the end of the week, with the store soon to follow.

“I have a condition called colitis,” he said. “When it flares up all I can do is lie down, and when I smoke it takes effect immediately. So what am I going to do, take some Vicodin instead?”

Rick Whatman, who started Around the Clock Cannabis on Main Street in Bozeman six years ago, is among those who plans to close his shop.

“I can’t stay in business. I can’t afford it,” he said. “Who can afford to grow for three people and pay their bills? It totally gets rid of having a storefront; you can’t cover your bills with three patients.”

The ruling will affect entrepreneurs, patients and economies alike, local advocates said. Gallatin, Park and Madison counties combined account for a quarter of the state’s medical marijuana patients and nearly a third of its providers.

“Without question, a lot of people are going to lose their jobs,” said Bob Devine, owner of Spark1 in Bozeman. “A lot of people are going to move. If they can’t do it here they are going to move and do it somewhere else.”

As no organization tracks provider revenues or employees, it’s difficult to accurately gauge the full economic impact of the state’s medical cannabis program. But Devine said the court’s decision will put hundreds out of a job.

“This is insane,” he said. “People just can’t believe it.”

Montana medical marijuana map

For years, Linda (who asked the Chronicle conceal her identity for fear of reprisal from an employer) woke to a nurse helping her swallow some of the 60 pills that were supposed to help with the grand mal seizures that crackled through her brain four or five times a day.

She couldn’t drive or hold a job. She couldn’t take any of her six grandchildren to the park or out for ice cream. And the pills didn’t help. Instead, they gave the 58-year-old headaches, liver problems and impaired her coordination. The side effects and seizures were enough to make her consider entering a rest home.

“It was getting to the point where I almost died. I didn’t even know I had children,” she said.

Her doctor in Wyoming was the first to mention marijuana as a possible solution, and in 2011 she moved to Montana and obtained a medical card.

“Now my whole life has changed. I’m driving, cooking for myself, I got a job. I couldn’t do any of that on my pills,” she said. “It’s an instant thing. A bite or a smoke of anything and I’m all calmed down. I’ve never been healthier.”

But in light of the recent ruling, her provider informed her that he will likely no longer be able to keep her on as a patient.

“I’m scared. I’m afraid I’ll have to go back on that medication,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Many providers said that they are more concerned for patients like Linda than the future of their businesses.

“There are over (13,000) patients and 471 providers in Montana, so if every provider kept three patients, there would only be 1,413 people that could get medicine. So now you just took away medicine from over 11,000 people,” said Whatman.

“It’s really opened my eyes to the severity of this for a lot of people,” added Devine. “It’s just not fair to the patients.”

The Montana Cannabis Information Association, the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, plans to file a petition for rehearing, which would effectively stall the ruling for at least 30 days. And the organization is already looking ahead to a November ballot initiative.

The MTCIA, which appointed Devine as its new president on Wednesday, partnered with the newly formed Montana Families United and hopes to put the groups’ combined weight behind a new medical initiative.

“We need to be united on this,” said Devine at a town hall-style meeting on Wednesday night that drew more than 150 local cannabis proponents. “Let’s build something we can work toward.”

The organizations are aiming to raise $500,000 and gather 36,000 signatures on their proposal, which would relax restrictions on the state’s medical industry.

“We want to promote the people of Montana to feel empowered and that they have a voice,” said Colleen Mason, an organizer for Families United. “If we do that, I truly believe that the state of Montana will have to take a step back and look at (the issue).”

“We have the same vision that we’ve been working on feverishly: the future. We all deserve a safer system than what we have, and I truly feel like we will be successful with this effort,” Devine added.

But for patients like Linda, a solution can’t come soon enough.

“I just want to live a good life,” she said. “I wish that this would all blow over and be the way it was.”

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Kendall can be reached at lkendall@dailychronicle.com. Kendall is on Twitter at @lewdak

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