Medical cannabis was legalized in Montana in 2004, but all forms of recreational cannabis remain illegal. The state continues to impose some of the heaviest penalties in the United States for illegal cannabis possession, consumption and distribution.
Montana’s treatment of recreational cannabis users is legendary for all the wrong reasons. Despite having legalized medical cannabis 15 years ago, the state continues to impose harsh punishments on those caught with even the smallest quantities of cannabis. The state’s medical cannabis infrastructure remains at a somewhat remedial level, though has been expanded significantly since its introduction. At which time, accessing medical cannabis as a qualifying patient was borderline impossible for some.
Medical cannabis legalization was taken to a vote in 2004, at which time 62% of the public voted to enact the new legislation. A decent majority, but a vote that continues to show surprisingly strong opposition to medical cannabis – 38% voting against it. The decision to legalize medical cannabis was applauded by advocates, though it quickly became apparent that many would-be patients would be excluded. From 2004 until 2016, every registered service provider/physician was forbidden from having any more than three cannabis patients at the same time.
In 2011, both houses of the Montana Legislature attempted to introduce a bill that would have repealed the new medical cannabis legislation. The attempt ultimately failed, but nonetheless resulted in further restrictions being placed on the state’s medical cannabis industry. Between March 2009 and make 2011, the number of medical cannabis card holders in Montana climbed from 2,000 to 31,000. By November 2014, there were just 9,000 medical cannabis card holders state-wide.
Mercifully, Initiative I-182 proposed a series of changes to the state’s cannabis policy that would widen access ability for potential patients. The initiative also expanded the state’s current list of qualifying medical conditions. Around the same time, the businessman Steve Zabawa's proposal to require Montana's drug policy to follow federal policy became popular, which would have effectively wiped out the entire medical cannabis industry. Thankfully, his efforts failed and Initiative I-182 passed with 58% of the vote.
Slow and Steady
As things stand right now, the medical cannabis program in Montana is moving at a glacial pace. It’s no longer quite as restrictive as it used to be, but things are moving significantly slower than elsewhere. The possibility of qualifying for a medical cannabis card and accessing medical cannabis exists, but it’s not quite as straightforward as you may expect. Detailed below are some of the most important questions on Montana’s medical cannabis policy and the prospect of recreational use in the state.
What Are the Medical Cannabis Possession Limitations?
If you qualify for a medical cannabis card in Montana, you will be permitted to carry a maximum of 1oz of medical cannabis at any one time. You will only be able to purchase the quantity of cannabis your doctor recommends, and dispensaries are required to keep comprehensive records to ensure the system is not abused. The state has a reasonably compact network of licensed dispensaries, so you may have to travel a fair distance to access the cannabis you need.
How Much Can I Buy Per Visit?
It’s assumed that most medical cannabis patients will want to buy their maximum quota with each visit. Hence, you can purchase no more than 1oz of medical cannabis at any one time. It is also legal to buy cannabis concentrates and other cannabis related products in equal quantities accordingly.
Can I Grow My Own Cannabis Instead?
Once again, if you have been approved for medical cannabis and have received your identification card, you are legally permitted to grow your own medical cannabis at home. Limited to a maximum of four mature plants, four seedlings and the cannabis you harvest accordingly. If multiple occupants share the same property, state law allows a maximum of eight plants and eight seedlings to be grown on the premises. This rule applies irrespective of whether two people or 12 people share the same property.
Please note that if you do go ahead and grow your own medical cannabis in Montana, it is a legal requirement to let the state department know the location of your mature plants and seedlings alike.
What Conditions Qualify for a Medical Cannabis Card?
The initial list of just a handful of qualifying conditions has been expanded several times since the program’s introduction. Today, it follows very similar lines to those of other US states that have legalized medical cannabis. Patients may be recommended for a medical cannabis card upon being diagnosed with any of the following:
Admittance into hospice care in accordance with department rules
Cachexia or wasting syndrome
Central nervous system disorder resulting in chronic, painful spasticity or muscle spasms
Epilepsy or an intractable seizure disorder
Intractable nausea or vomiting
Painful peripheral neuropathy
Positive status for HIV or AIDS
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Severe chronic pain
As always, being diagnosed with any of the above conditions does not necessarily guarantee your qualification for a medical cannabis card. Nor are all physicians in Montana willing to prescribe medical cannabis in any form. It’s therefore worth researching your choice of physicians, before making your initial appointment.
What Are the State’s Medical Cannabis Consumption Laws?
As elsewhere, it is forbidden to consume any form of cannabis in any public place in Montana. Medical cannabis patients may only consume cannabis on private property out of sight of the public. The policy wording outlines the following as prohibited areas for cannabis consumption:
School or postsecondary school
Any property owned or leased by a school or postsecondary school
School bus or public transit
Public parks, beaches and rec/youth centres
Places of worship
The open public
Any location where children's health could be affected
In essence, medical cannabis use is restricted to the private property of the patient, or another private property where the owner has permitted cannabis consumption.
How Does Montana Handle Cannabis-Related DUIs?
Montana has some of the harshest cannabis possession and consumption laws in the United States. Cannabis-related DUIs are handled in the same way as traditional alcohol DUIs – something of a zero-tolerance policy. The difference being that along with the standard penalties that apply to a DUI, you also stand to be busted for cannabis possession. If not, possession with the intent to supply – the penalties for which can be terrifying.
What About Transporting and Exporting Marijuana?
Medical cannabis card holders are legally permitted to transport medical cannabis from the place of purchase to their home, or a legal consumption location. At all times, the cannabis should be kept in a sealed container out of the reach of the driver. It remains a Federal offense to cross any state lines in the whole of the United States with any amount of cannabis on your person.
How Does Montana Punish Illegal Cannabis Use?
With zero mercy, would be the most concise answer. Even at this late stage in time, lawmakers in Montana have no problems throwing the book at recreational cannabis users. Or for that matter, medical cannabis users who don’t have an official medical cannabis card.
As a first offence, possession of no more than 60g of cannabis purely for personal use could see you facing a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. Get caught with the same small amount as a second offense and it’s a penalty of up to $1,000 and three years behind bars. Carry more than 60g on your person and you’re committing a felony, worth a generous five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. Should it be suspected that you have any intention of distributing the cannabis on your person, the same $50,000 maximum fine applies with up to 20 years in jail.
They also pull no punches when it comes to illegal cultivation. Grow fewer than 30 plants on your premises and you could be looking at 10 years in jail and a fine of $50,000. If you have more than 30 plants (or 1lb) on your premises at any one time, you could face life behind bars. The same also applies to the sale or delivery of cannabis within 1000 feet of a school – a mandatory minimum three years in jail, with the possibility of a life sentence.
When Will Montana Legalize Recreational Cannabis?
Policymakers in Montana have consistently demonstrated hardline opposition to free and easy access to cannabis. Given the restrictive and complex nature of the state’s medical cannabis legislation, it is highly unlikely recreational cannabis will be legalized anytime soon.
Even if it was put to the vote, it would be unlikely to gain enough support from the people of Montana to be successfully enacted.