Gov. sees middle ground on med marijuana
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Montana will probably take the middle-of-the-road approach to the problem of medical marijuana, Gov. Brian Schweitzer predicted. When the state Legislature convenes in January," The Legislature will have 100 bills introduced," he said. "They will run the gamut. "There will be calls to legalize it and tax it," he said. "And some will say, 'Dang it, it's out of control. Make it illegal.'" The likely outcome will be regulations to ensure that people who need it will get it, the governor predicted in an interview with the Havre Daily News after he spoke at Montana State University-Northern's graduation ceremony Saturday. "Voters understood that certain people could get relief from traditional medical practices," he said "For people on chemotherapy or with glaucoma, medical marijuana can be a major relief." While voters were well-intentioned when they approved the referendum allowing medical marijuana, "I don't think anyone anticipated it would explode to the extent that it has," he said. He said the final legislation will probably call on the medical community to help curtail unneeded use of medical marijuana. The governor said he got a call from a friend in Big Sky who was concerned about the abuse of medical marijuana. The friend relayed that in the small town of 1,800 people, there were three clinics offering medical marijuana. Schweitzer said his friend visited one of the clinics and found that most of the patients were young extreme skiers who injured themselves on the slopes. "You dang fool," he said his friend told one of the skiers "Why don't you stop skiing?" On other topics, Schweitzer pointed to the state's $400 million surplus and said most state employees have willingly helped the state trim expenses. "Some look at it as a challenge to be able to deliver the same services for less money," he said. "And there has been some whining." He reaffirmed his commitment to education — both kindergarten through 12th grade and college — saying no governor in state history had allocated more money to support educational programs. But he said he will insist that educators and other state offices learn to improve services while cutting costs. "If someone can't deliver the same services with 5 percent less, they ought to be fired," he said. He said he would challenge university leaders to come up with new ways to use technology to keep costs down and called on the university system to ensure that students who take classes at one campus receive credit if they transfer to another campus. "If someone takes a course at Northern, they ought to be able to transfer that credit to Bozeman or Missoula," he said. "I don't want to hear 'That's complicated, governor.' It's not complicated." More classes ought to be offered online, he said. "It's not fair to expect a 35-year-old with two children to drop everything and come to a campus," he said. "It's a lot cheaper and a lot easier for that person to take the course on a laptop computer on the kitchen table," he said. Online courses mean that universities save money in lighting and energy costs. "And the same professor, instead of having 25 students in his class, can teach 200 people online." He said he would ask the legislature to spend the money the state will receive from the Otter Creek coal leases toward improving education for engineers. "Engineers will change the world, not politicians," he said. He is especially interested in engineers who can help develop green energies. He sai d Montana can be the international leader in creating clean power. Northern will benefit from that, he said. "Northern is going to be a great center of new energy resources," he said. "People all over the world realize that the biodiesel program here is stateof- the-art." On politics, Schweitzer said he didn't make political predictions and wouldn't say if he thought Democrats would do well in the 2010 legislative elections, but quickly added that he thought most Montanans were happy with his refusal to raise taxes and his success at providing services and assisting education. "I think people who support the governor's plan will do well in the election," he said, "and those who oppose them will be sent back to the farm."