Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Patients sue over Great Falls' medical marijuana ban

(UPDATE: This post now contains new info, links and a copy of the complaint.)

Three medical marijuana patients are suing the City of Great Falls over the city’s recent ban on medical marijuana caregivers.

According to a lawsuit (which you can download here) filed Tuesday in Cascade County District Court, Great Falls medical marijuana patients Algy Thain, David Sears and Kraig Jackson say the city commission’s June 1 decision to ban any land use for the purposes of medical marijuana unlawfully prohibits them from growing their own medical marijuana and causes “substantial hardship” by making it difficult to obtain the drug.

Under the state’s medical marijuana law patients can grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use and name a caregiver who can grow an additional six plants for the patient.

The plaintiffs argue that that the City of Great Falls is “attempting to interfere with the ability of qualifying patients to receive their legal medication.” The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing the new ordinance banning medical marijuana within its borders.

“The main argument is that the local city government is a vassal of the state and has a duty to enforce state laws, not federal,” said Carl Jensen, the Great Falls attorney representing the three plaintiffs in the case. “The (city commission) has overreached its authority, inhibiting my clients’ access to their medication.”

The ban is set to go into effect July 1.

A group called Montanans for Responsible Legislation said Tuesday’s lawsuit is the “first of many” to be filed in the state.

“Our most ill, the very people this law intends to protect, can no longer wait for equitable treatment and justice,” Douglas Chyatte, of Montanans for Responsible Legislation, said Wednesday.

According to the complaint, Thain and Sears suffer from HIV and Jackson suffers from joint degeneration that inhibits his mobility.

Great Falls City Attorney James Santoro was out of the state Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. City Manager Greg Doyon, who said city officials had not yet been served with the lawsuit, declined to comment.

The Montana Medical Marijuana Act, which voters overwhelmingly passed through a 2004 ballot initiative, has become one of the hottest issues facing lawmakers as hundreds of new patients sign up each month. The state has seen a fivefold increase in new medical marijuana cardholders in the past year. The number of registered patients now exceeds 17,000.

As a result of the boom in medical marijuana card holders, municipalities across the state have instituted bans or moratoriums on medical marijuana caregiver shops. Lawmakers are considering ways to reform the law in the next legislative session. State Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, has proposed an outright repeal of the law that allows chronically ill patients to use marijuana.

Groups on both sides of the issue agree that the current law is overly broad and needs to be modified, but Montanans for Responsible Legislation said patients should not be forced to forgo medical marijuana in the meantime.

“While it is not our intent to create an acrimonious or adversarial relationship with the elected officials of Great Falls, we realize many of our ill do not have the luxury of waiting for the wheels of the bureaucracy to churn slowly towards a solution,” Chyatte said.

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