- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2011

HELENA, Mont. (AP) | A judge on Thursday blocked Montana from prohibiting commercial medical marijuana operations, saying that ban on profits from pot sales will restrict access to patients and deny people the right to seek health care.

Helena District Judge James Reynolds issued a preliminary injunction against portions of a restrictive overhaul of the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law, which was to take effect Friday.

One part of the law would have limited marijuana providers to distributing to a maximum of three patients and barred them from receiving anything of value for their product.

Montana hasn’t banned any other industries from receiving compensation for their goods and services, and the state has declared medical marijuana a legal product, Judge Reynolds said in his ruling. A profit ban would limit the number of willing marijuana providers and deny patients “this fundamental right of seeking their health care in a lawful manner.”

“The court is unaware of and has not been shown where any person in any other licensed and lawful industry in Montana — be he a barber, an accountant, a lawyer, or a doctor — who, providing a legal product or service, is denied the right to charge for that service or is limited in the number of people he or she can serve,” Judge Reynolds wrote.

Judge Reynolds also blocked provisions of the law banning advertising of medical marijuana, allowing unannounced searches of providers and requiring an investigation into any doctor who recommends marijuana for more than 25 patients in a year.

But he left other changes to the law in place, including stricter requirements of proof of chronic pain before a person can receive a registration card for that condition.

The ruling means medical marijuana providers for now will continue to operate under many of the rules approved by voters in 2004 until the full case can be heard. Critics say the voter-approved initiative is riddled with loopholes and has allowed the industry to spin out of control.

Montana has at least 30,000 medical marijuana users in a state with a population with just below 1 million. It’s one of the highest rates among the 15 states that allow medical marijuana use. Critics say the law is too permissive and has created a booming retail industry that peddles a product considered an illegal drug under federal law.

Meanwhile Thursday, marijuana dispensers appeared to have lost a fight in Washington, with the Justice Department saying marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers in states could face prosecution for violating federal drug and money-laundering laws.

In a policy memo to federal prosecutors obtained Thursday by the Associated Press, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said a 2009 memo discouraging the use of federal investigative resources in medical-marijuana cases legal under state laws did not apply to large-scale cultivators.

The new memo says that view has not changed, but “there has, however, been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes.”

The deputy attorney general said within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple large-scale, privately operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers.

“Some of these planned facilities have revenue projections of millions of dollars based on the planned cultivation of tens of thousands of cannabis plants,” he wrote, going on to state that the 2009 memorandum “was never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law.”

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