HELENA (AP) — A judge on Thursday extended his temporary block of restrictions on medical marijuana providers while he considers whether the state can eliminate access to the drug for some of the most seriously ill patients in the interest of curbing abuse.
District Judge James Reynolds did not immediately rule on whether to grant a preliminary injunction that would indefinitely block the state from implementing a ban on compensation for medical marijuana providers or limiting them to distributing marijuana to three people. Instead, he left in place a temporary restraining order while he considered the arguments from the two-hour hearing.
The state Supreme Court this fall overruled Reynolds in the case and said there is no constitutional right to access medical marijuana. The justices sent the case back to Reynolds, telling the judge to review the restrictions in the 2011 law by determining whether they are rationally related to a legitimate government interest.
Reynolds acknowledged that he was struggling with the high court's order, particularly on how the state law allowing some use of medical marijuana can be reconciled with the federal ban of the Schedule I drug.
But while Reynolds did not issue a ruling, he said he believes the state's restrictions on medical marijuana providers to be "logistically and rationally unreasonable."
Other provisions of the 2011 law that have gone into effect squeezed out other medical marijuana users except for the most ill patients, Reynolds said. The parts of the law now being challenged would require those patients to grow their own marijuana if they are unable to find a provider to do it for free, and many of them are physically unable to do so.
"I think that's irrational," Reynolds said.
Assistant Attorney General Stuart Segrest said the state has met the Supreme Court's requirement that it prove the law is rationally related to a state interest. It is within the state's right to implement the restrictions because they allow authorities to curb abuse, and the restrictions do not cut off patients' marijuana access, he said.
Segrest added that a voter referendum last month that upheld the law takes away the argument that the Legislature acted against the will of the people by passing the law.
Montana Cannabis Industry Association attorney James Goetz said the restrictions are irrational because they only cut off access to those who need medical marijuana the most. He said a July memo that purportedly came from U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter — but which Cotter would not confirm as his — shows that federal prosecutors don't plan to go after small-volume providers or users of medical marijuana.
An Associated Press request for the memo under the Freedom of Information Act has been pending for more than two months.
Goetz presented three medical marijuana users — two cancer patients and a woman with numerous illnesses including leukemia and scoliosis — who testified they would not know where to find the drug if their providers went out of business and they could not physically grow their own.
"At 65, how do I find somebody underground to do it? I don't know what to do," said Melva Stewart.
Two medical marijuana providers testified they would likely close down if the provisions banning compensation and limiting patients were enacted, and said it would be difficult and expensive for patients to grow their own.