Montana, like other states that have had a medical cannabis program for a while, has developed new rules. This is no doubt in part due to the Cole Memo, which has led states to improve tracking, decrease “leakage,” and address other aspects of their programs. However, it also provides a benefit to the state by adding to their coffers.
Part of the proposed rules is a modest increase in the cost for a patient medical card and the addition of a reasonable change fee; the rest is usual administrative and licensing fees that come with turning cannabis into an industry. While adding testing and labeling requirements—which makes medical marijuana safer for vulnerable patients—the new rules also may make it more difficult for patients to obtain or afford their oftentimes necessary medicine because of the added cost to growers.
Under these rules—which were in the public comment period until December 7, 2017—the cost of a medical marijuana card will go from $5 to $30, not an unreasonable amount compared to the $200 that Oregonians pay to the state for the privilege of using cannabis medicinally. The big change will be to a grower’s (referred to as a “provider” in the statute) cost. A provider license will increase from the current $50 to $1000 for those who serve 10 or fewer patients and $5000 for those with bigger grows. Of course, those harmed most will be the patients whose grower only provides for one or two patients—as they pay the same fee as someone who grows for more. As we have seen in Oregon, this is a deterrent to small growers who don’t want (or cannot afford) to grow a huge crop.
Once the public comment period ends, changes may be made to the rules and the Montana Department of Health & Human Services must provide two months’ notice before implementation. The final rules are expected to go into effect sometime in Spring 2018.
Other changes to rules include:
•Addition of a marijuana employee permit—which an employee must carry while working. The rules do not address the cost to workers, although the projected fiscal impact (see sidebar) shows $50—half of what Oregon charges.
•Montana residency requirement for cardholders.
•Marijuana and marijuana-infused products licensee guidelines (including 50 square foot canopy space per patient).
•Public health and security requirements.
•Concentrate and extract requirements, including prohibition on using class I solvents; pressurized canned flammable fuel intended for use in camp stoves, handheld torch devices, refillable cigarette lighters, and similar products; and denatured alcohol.
•Limitations on visitors to various provider and lab sites.
•Inventory tracking of any plant over 12 inches tall with a unique identification number.
•Transport between lab and grower or processor.
•Waste and destruction of waste.
•Reporting requirements for patients—including moving a grow site, loss of a card, change of address, change of referring doctor
As in other states, labeling requirements are detailed, with warnings to “keep out of reach of children,” “driving under the influence is illegal,” and FDA has not approved the product to “treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” Also mandated to be labeled is the concentration of THC, THCA, CBD and CBDA.
Those providers who are supplying 10 or fewer patients are not required to have their products undergo testing, but any container must be labeled as such.
In an abundance of caution, the rules also require that ointments, suppositories, or topicals must be labeled “DO NOT EAT.” This exemplifies the overkill that occurs when drafting rules regarding marijuana. I am not aware that any other similar products (without cannabis) are required to have such wording, and never once have I or most people been tempted to eat Tiger Balm or steroid cream, for example.
Testing rules require 5-pound lots for testing, a requirement that the product be cured, and copious other mechanical and documentation requirements. Batches that fail a test must be re-tested by the lab. Labs must be ISO 17025-accredited.
The rules also add the term “exit package,” referring to a sealed container in which the cannabis is placed at the point of retail sale. This is slightly better than “exit bag,” used in other states. (The term “exit bag” was first used in the 1990s to refer to a plastic bag placed over the head by a terminally ill patient, along with carbon monoxide, nitrogen, another gas, or even by itself, to kill oneself.)
Notice of the public hearing with proposed rules can be found at http://dphhs.mt.gov/Portals/85/rules/37-820pro-arm.pdf. If the Oregon experience provides any guidance (I served on several of their rulemaking advisory committees), we can expect to see more changes every year or two.
Fiscal Impact Current Program Numbers
Current Fee Proposed Fee Cumulative Amount
20,000 cardholders $5-$30 ($25 increase) $500,000
387 providers with 10 or fewer cardholders
$50-$1,000 ($950 increase) $367,650
222 providers with more than 10 cardholders
$50-$5,000 ($4,950 increase) $1,098,900
Four testing laboratories $0-$2,000
($2,000 increase) $8,000
137 chemical manufacturer endorsements
$0-$500 ($500 increase) $68,500
Other Estimated Actions/Fees:
1,400 licensee’s employees $50
($50 new fee) $70,000
100 dispensaries $500 ($500 new fee) $50,000
4,000 change requests $10 ($10 new fee) $40,000
Cheryl K. Smith is a freelance writer and copyeditor for CannaBiz Journal. She previously served on the Oregon Advisory Committee for Medical Marijuana where she was chair for two years, was a founder of Compassionate Oregon, and has been involved in medical marijuana patient advocacy for many years. She served on several advisory committees developing rules related to cannabis in Oregon.