HELENA — A health department official said Wednesday it's not feasible to stop issuing medical marijuana cards as the state moves to a more restrictive law, so the agency will continue to process hundreds of applications for pot cards.
The marijuana overhaul became law on May 14, immediately repealing the Department of Public Health and Human Service's authority to issue new cards.
Roy Kemp, who oversees the card issuing process, said that is far too abrupt. His department will continue to distribute cards under the old law until June 20 because Kemp said patients haven't had time to prepare for the restrictive law.
"There's no transition here," Kemp said. "One minute they are being served with medical marijuana, and the next minute they have nothing."
"The least I can do is give a moderate amount of time," he said.
The health department says there are ambiguities in the law and unforeseen consequences of trying to immediately stop marijuana cards that allow new cards to be issued until June 20.
But that date is longer than lawmakers intended for Montanans to have access to marijuana cards under the less restrictive law.
The law states the authority of the health department to issue medical marijuana cards under the previous pot law is repealed immediately. The agency is granted powers to issue cards under the new strict regulations on June 1. The full force of the measure goes into effect July 1.
The lawmaker that sponsored the overhaul said to keep issuing the cards is illegal.
"He is looking a way for a way of trying to avoid the Legislatures clear intention. I think he's in violation of the law," said Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, about Kemp's statements.
Essmann said Gov. Brian Schweitzer's administration and the health department have continually not enforced marijuana regulations when they needed to.
He said the health department is doing nothing except "sit on the sidelines and hand out cards like candy."
The overhaul bill rewrites the state's 2004 voter-approved marijuana law to strictly limit who can use and distribute medical marijuana. The law is intended to rein in the state's booming number of marijuana patients that is above 30,000 and comply with federal authorities who have raided marijuana operations around the state.