Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Medical marijuana discussed at Pachyderm meeting


November 6, 2017

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

C.J. Reichelt, left, team leader of the Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force, and Havre Police Chief Gabe Matosich listen Friday in the Duck Inn Vineyard Room during a meeting of the Havre Pachyderm Club.

Havre Police Chief Gabe Matosich and Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force Team Leader C.J. Reichelt spoke at a Pachyderm Club meeting Friday in the Vineyard Room of the Duck Inn, about the ongoing debate over whether Havre should ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

Matosich, Reichelt and City Council President Andrew Brekke spoke and answered questions about medical marijuana. Matosich has said he supports a ban on medical marijuana storefront dispensaries, saying they lead to higher crime, abuse by some cardholders and could jeopardize federal grant money.

"It's something that must be dealt with," Matosich said.

Matosich also commended Brekke for leading the hearings on what action the city should take next on dispensaries.

The Havre City Council Ordinance Committee began to discuss in July whether to ban or regulate through zoning storefront dispensaries. Three public meetings have been held since.

The issue has been discussed and voted on by local governments throughout Montana. Missoula, Butte and Bozeman have voted to regulate them through zoning.

Billings, Glasgow, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Malta are among the cities who have decided to ban them.

Havre has not yet decided what to do.

Monthly numbers released by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services say that in October the state had a total of 21,120 cardholders and 610 providers.

Blaine County has one provider and 55 cardholders, Chouteau County one provider and 48 cardholders, Hill County has three providers and 246 cardholders and Liberty County has 12 cardholders and no providers.

During a PowerPoint presentation, Matosich said Montana voters in 2004 approved a ballot initiative legalizing the sale, possession, cultivation and use of medical marijuana.

The Montana Legislature in 2011 adopted a host of new restrictions on providers that included a ban on advertising, limiting dispensaries to three patients and preventing providers from paying employees.

The Montana Supreme Court later struck down the limits, Matosich said. In November 2016, voters approved another initiative that repealed the three-patient limit and allowed providers to hire and pay employees to grow, dispense and transport marijuana for medical purposes.

"That's a problem, that's a problem," Matosich said.

The law allows someone who holds a card for medical reasons to obtain a card from the state through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. It also allows local governments to establish regulations on the growth and sale of medical marijuana to protect public health, safety and welfare. He said local governments can prevent providers from operating as businesses or storefront dispensaries.

The Montana Medical Marijuana Act, he said, does not establish a constitutional right to access or dispense marijuana.

Matosich said if the city does ban dispensaries, cardholders will still be able to obtain medical marijuana. The Montana Medical Marijuana Act does not give local government the ability to regulate it.

"So they can still get it, they just can't go downtown and buy it," Matosich said.

Matosich said medical marijuana dispensaries can lead to more crime within communities. He showed a piece from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle about a Sept. 27 break-in at a Bozeman dispensary. The same day, an employee at another Bozeman dispensary called police to report that someone had attempted to break into their business.

Matosich said another break in at a dispensary in Bozeman was reported Oct. 30 that is still under investigation.

He said that Great Falls Police also recently uncovered a secret marijuana lab in Sun Prairie. The man who operated the lab was making Butane Honey Oil or BHO.

Reichelt said BHO is marijuana concentrate used in edibles, candies and baked goods sold at dispensaries. The process of making BHO, Reichelt said, involves taking a large amount of marijuana and putting butane through it. He said the process usually takes one can of butane per ounce of marijuana.

Butane will then be shot through a glass container of marijuana under pressure and produces a liquid with more THC. The butane is then boiled out to make a higher concentrate drug, Reichelt said.

The danger, Reichelt said, is that butane is a flammable liquid. He said in Missoula last year, an apartment building where BHO was being produced blew up.

Matosich said an explosion in a facility where BHO is being made can be caused by flicking a light switch, igniting a cigarette lighter or sparks from static electricity.

Brad Lotton asked if there was a difference between the price of marijuana sold at a dispensary and marijuana sold on the street.

The difference, Reichelt said, is minor.

Lotton asked if cardholders have bought marijuana at a dispensary and then sold it to people on the street, which is illegal under the Medical Marijuana Act.

Reichelt said they have had informants tell them there have been cardholders who have, for a price, bought marijuana from a dispensary and then sold it at a higher price.

"So they are using their disability or their card to supplement their income," Reichelt said.

Though it is illegal under the act, Reichelt said the difficulty is trying to figure out who the people are who are selling the marijuana.

People can legally obtain a card that allows them to legally purchase, grow, possess or transport marijuana if they have certain medical aliments. Conditions can include people in hospice care, cancer patients or people with chronic pain.

Lotton asked if there is any data on how many cardholders receive public assistance.

Brekke said though law enforcement can obtain information on cardholders through a subpeona, the law has privacy clauses that prevent the release of such information.

Matosich also said the Montana Medical Marijuana Act is vague, complex and has holes that prevent its enforcement.

Brekke said that because DPHHS has not written or enforced rules it now falls to cities. However, Havre does not have any ordinance dictating how medical marijuana should be regulated.

"We have zoning regulations that mention almost every other type of business you can imagine or envision listed in our ordinances, but we have nothing on this," he said.

The challenge council faces, Brekke said, is separating the emotional issue of medical marijuana from the zoning issue. Though council has the power to regulate or ban dispensaries, he said they don't have the authority to do anything else about medical marijuana.

"I want to make sure people understand that we have a responsibility as elected officials to deal with all of our constituents, those that have cards and those that don't and weigh that against the concerns that law enforcement has and the city of Havre has a whole," Brekke said. "We have to come up with some type of solution because the state won't."

Brekke said a problem also existed because the law took effect on three separate dates. Part of the act went in effect June 1, another part Sept. 1 and the last part Oct. 1. He said that is part of why the city's response is delayed because the law itself is still evolving.

"Two months ago, the act said we had the right to regulate storefront dispensaries only, now the act says we have a right to regulate all dispensaries and not just storefronts," Brekke said. "All this stuff should have been worked out before the act took effect, in my opinion, but that is not the way it worked."

Matosich and Brekke also discussed the possibility of the city losing federal grant money if it allows store front dispensaries, since the sale of marijuana is still illegal under federal law.


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