By Ross Peter Nelson and Cowboy
After Jeff Essmann’s Senate Bill 423 sabotaged the state’s medical marijuana (MMJ) law in 2011, Montanans responded by overwhelmingly passing I-182 last November. In addition to repudiating his near-shutdown of the industry, I’m sure voters hoped he would learn from his mistakes and allow a sensible plan for licensing and testing to be implemented. Alas, that appears not to be the case.
Jeff Essmann, yet again, has decided that Montana voters do not know best:
- In 2011 when he sabotaged the MMJ law.
- Earlier this year, he and Austin Knudsen, sabotaged a fiscally responsible plan to ensure every registered voter have a chance to vote in the special election when they undermined SB 305, the mail ballot bill. #TheSagaofSB305
- Now it’s 2017 and Essmann is trying to sabotage MMJ again.
The new MMJ plan, which was before the legislature in the form of SB 333 has been subverted once again. The House Taxation Committee, chaired by none other than Mr. Essmann, has attached 20 different amendments to the bill. Sponsor Mary Caferro notes that the amendments make the licensing plan less safe, less functional, and less transparent.
One of the more punitive measures is a quarterly fee on MMJ dispensaries. Initially, SB 333 called for a tax on sales. However, as amended, each provider would now pay $100/year for every MMJ card-holder they serviced. This would be a huge financial burden on providers, since if a card-holder only purchased small amounts of marijuana, the dispensary would end up paying more in fees than they received in income.
For example, at the original 4% tax rate, a provider with a customer who purchased $80 worth of marijuana would pay $3.20 in taxes. Under Essmann’s plan, the dispensary would be forced to pay $100 in fees.
This provision might cause dispensaries to discourage patients looking for short-term relief of symptoms. This impacts people with the some of the greatest needs: hospice patients who only have relatively short life expectancy.
In addition to penalizing people who are trying to work within the system, the amendments allows small-scale providers to evade the product testing requirements. Dispensaries that skipped the testing would have less overhead and presumably, lower prices. That would incentivize people to seek out the exempt providers and resell their products on the black market.
Montana’s 13,000 MMJ patients and the industry that supports them were behind the original version of SB 333. Now, they’re looking at a version of a bill that may reprise the chaos of 2011. Fortunately, the Montana Senate passed a version of the bill without the Essmann amendments, and the bill is now in conference committee to work out a compromise.
Put pressure on your representatives to ensure that medical marijuana in this state is handled safely and fairly.
Call 406-444-4800 and tell them your legislator that you want proper regulation and the original version of SB 333, not punitive measures from a sore loser.
Also, call and tell Austin Knudsen to send the new version of the mail ballot bill, HB 83, to the floor for a vote and quit being a partisan hack being controlled from Washington DC.
Ross Peter Nelson is a playwright whose avocations include photography, hiking, and politics. Bio: https://rosspnelson.