- Associated Press - Sunday, February 20, 2011

HELENA, Mont. | Some Montanans have had enough of medical marijuana, saying their state’s image as a rugged cowboy frontier is being replaced by a fast-growing pot culture.

They point to the spread of medical pot in normally healthy college students, an abundance of pot shops and concerns among police that excess of medical-grade marijuana is being exported illegally out of the state.

Now, some lawmakers are pushing to make Montana the first state to repeal a medical marijuana law.

“It’s not good, this situation we are in,” said House Speaker Mike Milburn. “We’re getting known for the wrong reasons.”

Medical marijuana advocates and legal pot smokers packed hearings recently, filling Capitol halls with the unmistakable herbal scent of pot and pleading for tighter rules, not repeal.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has yet to propose his own fix and probably won’t, and instead is deferring to lawmakers for now. But he said residents have more pressing concerns, such as getting jobs and earning enough money to support their families.

“They have kids coming home from college that don’t have jobs,” he said. “They are making $8 an hour and that is not enough to pay their insurance, pay their rent and make their car payment. They would like to make $12 an hour.

“If medical marijuana comes up at all, it is because they like to joke about it,” he said.

Montanans overwhelmingly voted to allow medical marijuana for the very sick in 2004. There were few regulations in place, and the number of people who got a state card to smoke pot grew slowly at first.

Then came the boom in 2009 after the Justice Department said it wouldn’t prosecute patients who follow state law.

Advocates and distributors then figured out they could sign up thousands of people who claim to suffer from “chronic pain,” a vague term covering everything from creaky knees to sore backs to persistent headaches.

They started caravans, going from town to town to register patients by the thousands. Leaders in cities across the state began to grow concerned when they saw pot sellers springing up on main streets and near schools. They put moratoriums on the businesses, and many asked lawmakers for a solution.

The advocates stopped the caravans. The state board of medical examiners fined one doctor who saw a new patient every six minutes during one of the traveling clinics — not enough time to provide adequate care.

Two years after the boom began, there were more than 28,000 registered users in a state of less than a million people. That’s about three times as many state-sanctioned marijuana smokers as ranch owners.

Roughly one out of every 19 households now has a card. Nearly a third of cardholders are under 30 years old. The number of registered users continues to grow by as many as 1,000 new users a month.

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