Top Cop Says: Anyone Can Get a Medical Marijuana Card
Police Chief Believes Some Physicians Are Abusing the Law for Profit
BY PAT HILL
While Livingston, Montana's top cop acknowledges that medical marijuana is here to stay in Big Sky Country, Chief Darren Raney has what he sees as real concerns regarding the rapidly-expanding medical marijuana scene in his jurisdiction and the rest of the state.
“So far we've encountered no problems—just confusion,” Raney told the Pioneer, “especially since last fall, when it broke wide open. Since then there's been an explosion of patients and caregivers.”
Last fall the Obama administration advised federal prosecutors not to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compli-ance with state law, and since then Montana's medical marijuana patient count has indeed exploded, from about 1,000 people in February of 2009 to over 10,000 and counting at present. About 1,000 caregivers now operate in the Treasure State as well.
In the last few months, towns and cities across the state, including Bozeman and Livingston, have put various moratoriums in place, mostly regarding where medical marijuana is sold, until those communities address the issue of zoning when it comes to medical marijuana sales operations.
“The [Livingston] City Commission has concerns on where the product is sold,” said Raney. “Residen-tial areas, schools…marijuana shops next to family businesses…those are areas of concern. They wanted to buy some time to figure out the zoning…it's a zoning issue.” But Raney's concerns go beyond zoning.
“I think it likely that medical marijuana is here to stay,” said Raney. “Once a law is enacted, it's tough to repeal it. We just need to regulate it. It's so loosely regulated right now that the law has basically legalized marijuana in Montana for all intents and purposes. I don't support legalization of marijuana, but if that's the intent, go there. I think medical mariju-ana is just an avenue to legalization.”
Raney makes that claim based in part on his belief that “basic-ally anybody can get a card.” In a prepared statement dated Mar. 12, Raney said, “Given the extensive and overly vague list of qualifying medical conditions, I argue that anyone could find a physician who will sign off on approval and legally obtain a medical marijuana card. In my jurisdiction, we are encountering many people, including young adults, with a known history of marijuana use who now have a medical marijuana card and can use the drug as they see fit.”
“I don't think the intent of the voters was for a 19-year-old to use marijuana when he gets a headache,” Raney told the Pioneer. “A blanket authorization to use mari-juana at will doesn't make sense to me.” He also said he thinks some doctors are abusing the Montana Medical Marijuana Act for financial gain.
“I think the doctors need more oversight,” Raney said.
In his prepared statement, Raney said, “There should be strict oversight regulating physicians who sign off on approving the drug to ensure that they have conducted the required examination, documented it, determined that marijuana would help the patient, set forth a schedule of recommended use and dosage, define the time period for use and conduct appropriate follow up examinations to determine if the drug is actually accomplishing the desired medical benefits. We don't allow people to obtain a card allowing them to use and possess prescription pain killers however and whenever they want, acquiring the drug from unregulated sources. There are strict regulations. Marijuana should be no different.” Raney said that caregivers also need more oversight.
“Caregivers need to be licensed and subject to inspection,” Raney said, “not only to make sure their business complies with appropriate safety measures, but to ensure a consistent, safe, beneficial product.” Raney also said that the law regarding distribution is “vague.” In his prepared statement, Raney said that “Although caregivers may possess and distribute legal quantities of marijuana for registered patients, there is confusion as to the legality of contracting with or allowing a third party to grow, possess, package or distribute marijuana on their behalf. This further complicates enforcement efforts.”
“Once a patient has a medical marijuana card, the marijuana is legal,” Raney told the Pioneer, “but where do they get it? There's no way to track down where it came from.”
Raney believes the problems involving medical marijuana outweigh the benefits, and will have a negative impact on society in the long run. “It's the wrong message for younger generations,” he said. “We are not going to help the overall health of this country by promoting the use of marijuana. I think it's contrary to the incentive of impro-ving health…the health care debate is center stage in the U.S. right now, and with the known negative health impacts of smoking marijuana, allowing people to use it at will makes no sense to me.”