- Associated Press - Friday, April 29, 2011

HELENA, MONT. (AP) - A medical marijuana overhaul bill that aims to reduce the number of patients and end pot businesses will become law without the signature of the governor.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer remained critical Friday of the bill that passed the Legislature on Thursday, saying he believes it will prevent access to the drug for some people who need it.

But the current law couldn’t stand because of the booming marijuana trade that has resulted, and the Legislature had ruled out all the other alternatives, he said.

“Is the bill perfect? Not close,” Schweitzer said. “But can I veto this thing and allow the wild, wild west to go on for the next couple of years? I don’t think so.”

If Schweitzer doesn’t sign or veto the bill, it becomes law without his signature 10 days after he receives it.

The governor said he would have to let the bill go into effect and look to the next Legislature to increase access for patients.

“I will hold my nose and allow this to be law until the Legislature gets back to session,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer’s intentions were first reported Friday by The Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

The new law will take effect in July. It will bar pot providers from charging patients for marijuana and limit to three the number of people they can give marijuana. It also will limit who qualifies for medical marijuana and give cities and law enforcement more authority to monitor and regulate providers.

It also requires an applicant to provide strong proof of a qualifying illness _ an attempt to close what critics call a loophole in the current law that has allowed recreational users to be added to the registry.

Over the past two years, the number of registered users in Montana has increased nearly tenfold to about 30,000 people.

Schweitzer had recommended a number of changes after the Legislature passed the law earlier this week, including allowing 25 patients per pot provider and letting those providers make a profit.

Before adjourning the legislative session on Thursday night, lawmakers agreed to several of the governor’s changes and passed a revised bill. One recommendation they did not adopt was loosening the restrictions on medical marijuana providers.

Schweitzer said there is a problem with patient access in the overhaul.

“There is a large concern out there that there are people who have legitimate needs for medical cannabis and aren’t equipped to grow their own,” he said.

Lawmakers have said they could not endorse increasing the number of patients per provider because the Department of Justice made clear that it will target large growing operations.

Montana’s marijuana businesses were recently the target of federal raids, and the U.S. attorney for Montana issued warnings against marijuana businesses last week.

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Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com