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Lawmakers uncertain on medical marijuana issue


HELENA — Montana lawmakers said Monday they are uncertain whether they should come up with a backup plan should their crackdown on medical marijuana be struck down in the courts or rejected next year at the ballot box.

The state's tough new medical marijuana law is under attack by the industry both in the courts and with an initiative asking voters to reject the new law at the ballot box in 2012.

A legislative interim committee decided Monday that it will continue to monitor both before making any plans to draft backup legislation in case the new law is struck down.

Republican state Sen. Jason Priest of Red Lodge said there is too much uncertainty around the issue at the moment to draft firm plans. Priest said he thinks most, if not all, of the law will withstand the challenges.

Priest pointed to a recent poll that found 62 percent of respondents favored the overhaul of the pot law adopted by the Legislature earlier this year. That followed news that opponents to the law had been able to collect enough signatures to place a referendum vote on the ballot.

The medical marijuana law in the state started with voters who in 2004 approved an initiative that legalized medical marijuana. But even many supporters later agreed the law was too vague and permissive, although attempts to reach a compromise earlier this year at the Legislature failed — resulting in a crackdown opposed by the industry.

A Helena judge has, meanwhile, agreed with the industry and blocked some parts of the new law while he continue to hear the legal challenge brought by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.

At the same time, the federal government has cracked down on a drug they still consider illegal despite state medical marijuana laws. U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors are even arguing in court that jurors should not be allowed to hear evidence about the state's medical pot law as part of a defense in cases where operators are charged with federal crimes.

State lawmakers said Monday that situation needs also to resolve itself before they could consider revisiting the issue again.

The full session of the Legislature is not expected to convene again until 2013, which would be the first chance lawmakers have to revise their plans.

Priest said he thinks there is plenty of time over the interim to begin drafting a backup plan should it become necessary.


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