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County proposes medical marijuana law


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The Hill County Commission is weighing in on the regulation of medical marijuana.

A public hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday on a proposal to ban establishments selling the herb or any paraphernalia until a decision is made on setting new zoning ordinances to permanently regulate the issue.

The proposed ordinance states that the prohibition will not apply to current caregivers or any patients following the 2004 law approved by Montana voters to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes.

The use of medical marijuana has exploded in the last 12 months, prompting local governments to scramble to find ways to regulate the business.

The Havre city government already approved a six-month moratorium on new caregiver operations, pending further study on how the issue could be better-regulated. That included a requirement that existing marijuana caregivers register with the city.

The proposed county ordinance also requires existing caregivers to certify with the county sanitarian the number of plants in their possession and the number of qualifying patients registered to them on the date the ordinance passes.

As the proposed ordinance is under interim zoning laws, it requires only one public hearing and the commission could vote on it as soon as the hearing is complete.

City and county governments — and a legislative interim committee — have been in active mode for six months trying to find ways to regulate the herb. Many in local government, including Havre and Hill County officials, have said the 2004 initiative makes it difficult to ensure the intent and letter of the law is followed.

According to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services medical marijuana registry page on its website, the number of patients approved to use the herb jumped from 842 at the end of 2008 to 5,953 by the end of last year.

It has increased by more than 6,000, to 12,381, patients in the last six months.

Montana law states that each patient and their caregiver may legally own up to six marijuana plants and up to one ounce of usable marijuana for the use of the patient.

The patient must have a doctor's recommendation for the use of marijuana, which the law states must be used for a debilitating condition such as cancer, glaucoma, being HIV-positive, or severe or chronic pain or nausea.

Thursday's hearing is scheduled to be held in the Timmons Meeting Room in the courthouse basement.


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