The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is lowering its fee for medical marijuana cardholder registrants by about 94 percent. The department, which administers the program, announced the change this month. As of Saturday, people renewing or applying for a new medical marijuana card will pay $5 instead of $75.
“The fee change is necessary because current program revenues are in excess of what is needed to operate the program,” Jon Ebelt, a health department spokesman, said in a statement. “Fee changes have occurred in previous years when warranted.”
Registration fees from cardholders and providers cover most of the cost to administer the program. The outgoing fee of $75 was set in 2012. At that time, the program had run at a deficit of $500,000 annually for the previous two years, Ebelt said.
The Montana Legislature did appropriate additional funding for the Montana Marijuana Program to deal with an explosion in the number of registered cardholders. Those appropriations went unused, however, after lawmakers passed SB 423 in 2011, which curtailed the program.
Instead, the health department raised its fees to cover costs.
Though SB 423 wasn’t fully implemented due to a lawsuit, the number of cardholders dropped after its passage. From a high of about 30,000 in 2011, there are about 13,000 cardholders in Montana as of June.
Now the health department is lowering its fees because it deals with fewer patients in the registry, Ebelt said. Montana Marijuana Program fee revenues were estimated to reach $375,000 at the onset of the current fiscal year, state records show.
The fee change comes at another period of change for the state-run program, which could again alter the number of cardholders. The fully provisioned version of SB 423 will go into effect on Aug. 31 following a long legal battle brought by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.
Those in the industry fought certain parts of the bill, claiming that they would put providers out of business. One such provision requires that only three patients be registered to a provider, though many had served hundreds previously.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the case, marking a last-ditch effort by the trade group. “It’s been five-and-a-half years of this,” said Bob Devine, president of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. “And we’re still here. We’re going to be here next year.”
Though the law will take effect in August, things could change again this fall if voters approve one of two marijuana-related ballot initiatives. I-182, brought by Devine’s organization, would remove the restrictions like the three-patient limit.
A competing initiative, I-176, would repeal the state program and defer to federal drug laws. Neither initiative has been officially approved for the ballot, though both campaigns have claimed to have collected enough signatures for approval.
The state health department previously voiced concern for patients who might lose access to medical marijuana as a result of the new law. As it stands currently, health officials are working to accommodate the August deadline.
“DPHHS is currently working on communications to notify providers and cardholders about the new regulations and options for complying,” Ebelt said.
Source: Billings Gazette
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