HELENA – Montana’s House Human Services Committee held an initial hearing Thursday on a bill that would increase legal protections for medical marijuana patients in the state.
Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, a Democrat, is sponsoring House Bill 445, which would make a variety of changes to the state’s medical marijuana law. She said it is intended to address some issues that remained after the Legislature passed a wide-ranging reform bill in 2017.
“This is, I guess you could call, a ‘clean-up bill,’ or filling in the gaps that we might not have anticipated when we put all those amendments in,” she said.
HB 445 would state that landlords cannot refuse to rent to someone solely because they are a medical marijuana cardholder and that they cannot prohibit cardholders from using marijuana in the rented property — or growing it, if they do not have another provider. It would also state employers can;t refuse to hire someone because they are a cardholder or prohibit employees with medical marijuana cards from using marijuana at their workplace.
There are some exceptions included in the bill. Landlords could stop people from smoking marijuana on their property if they prohibit all smoking, and they could charge a tenant for any damage to the property from marijuana cultivation. Employers could put “reasonable restrictions” on how their employees used medical marijuana, and they could discipline someone for being under the influence during work hours. Landlords and employers would both be exempted from the requirements if it would affect their ability to obtain federal funding.
Supporters of the provisions said they were pleased at the added support for medical marijuana patients.
“It’s the first one I’ve seen that actually has patient protections in mind, and not just protecting the state or the provider,” said Danielle Muggli, a medical marijuana provider.
“We think it’s very important to not stigmatize people for following a doctor’s recommendation on how to treat chronic pain or asthma or cancer or whatever their condition might be,” said Alex Gray.
Opponents pointed to concerns about the new requirements for landlords and employers, particularly the requirement to allow some patients to grow marijuana. Several said it would force them into a legal gray area because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
“I like fair housing, I don’t like restrictions, I don’t like to force an individual landlord to comply with something that’s illegal federally,” said John Sinrud, representing the Montana Landlords Association. “I think it’s unconstitutional and just abhorrent.”
HB 445 would also prohibit marijuana providers from arranging for doctors to examine a patient for a medical marijuana card or paying the costs for a patient to see a doctor to get a card. Dunwell said those changes are aimed at making sure providers and physicians are not “collaborating” to drive business to each other.
But Douglas Felt, operator of Uncle Bucks Dispensary in Billings, opposed that section. He said he’s paid for many of his low-income customers to see a doctor and secure a medical marijuana card.
“Those people have all told me that, if I’m not able to help them, they are returning to the black market,” he said.
HB 445 also included a number of other changes. It would allow medical marijuana patients from outside Montana to possess marijuana in the state, make anxiety disorders approved conditions for medical marijuana treatment, reduce the waiting time for a marijuana card and allow people on probation and parole to use medical marijuana.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.