HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Medical marijuana advocates and patients are asking a judge to fix a mistake in a voter-approved ballot initiative that inadvertently delayed the re-opening of shuttered pot dispensaries in Montana by eight months.
A state law that limited medical marijuana providers to three patients apiece took effect on Aug. 31 after a five-year battle, leaving thousands of registered users without legal access to the drug.
Earlier this month, Montana voters passed Initiative 182 to repeal the three-patient limit, but the writers of the ballot measure accidentally put in a July 1, 2017, effective date, instead of making it immediately effective.
One lawsuit was filed Tuesday and another was to be filed this week asking District Judge James Reynolds of Helena to issue an order that would re-open marijuana dispensaries immediately.
"You and I and everybody else knows that when the public voted on I-182, they didn't get into the minutia of the effective date," said James Goetz, a Bozeman attorney representing the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. "Let's get on with it and help these poor people who want their medicine and can't get it."
The Montana Cannabis Industry Association is asking Reynolds to rule that the delayed effective date was the result of what's known as a "scrivener's error" that courts can correct.
Another advocacy group, Montanans Ensuring Access to Natural Medicine, released a draft update to a separate lawsuit it filed in September with four medical marijuana patients. That lawsuit is also before Reynolds, and it asks the judge to rule that the three-patient limit is unconstitutional and to block it from being enforced until the initiative takes effect July 1.
Such a ruling also would allow dispensaries to reopen immediately.
Reynolds was the judge who handled the legal challenge to the Montana Legislature's 2011 law that included the three-patient limit and other restrictions on the drug. Reynolds twice blocked that provision of the law before the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of it earlier this year.
Kim Faechner, the president of Montanans Ensuring Access to Natural Medicine, said she believes Reynolds will block it again.
"We're very, very hopeful," she said. "There's no reason to make people wait. The people have spoken twice now."
Voters first legalized medical marijuana in Montana in 2004. State lawmakers passed its restrictive law in 2011 to rein in abuses after the number of patients surpassed 30,000.
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services spokesman Jon Ebelt said officials are reviewing Goetz's filing but had not seen a copy of the amended Montanans Ensuring Access to Natural Medicine lawsuit.
"The department understands how important this issue is to thousands of Montanans, and will work as quickly as possible to file an appropriate response with the court," Ebelt said.