BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Lenny brown is a medical marijuana patient, and used to be a provider.
"I've been a caregiver since the program started in 2005" Brown said.
But after Senate Bill 423 passed, he said the new restrictions forced him to shut down.
The law passed by the 2011 legislature tightened regulations on who could qualify for medical marijuana cards, who could be providers and how they could advertise.
"I was denied my providers license for a charge of possession that I had in 1974" he said, of what happened when he re-applied for a license after SB 423 took effect.
One of the new provisions states anyone with a criminal history can't be a provider- even if it's a misdemeanor charge like Lenny's from over 30 years ago.
Under the old medical marijuana law, only convicted felons were restricted from becoming providers.
"I was shut down overnight" Brown said. He said his 50-plus patients had to scramble to find another provider.
The number of providers and patients in the state has dramatically dropped since the law passed.
As of April of 2012, the number of medical marijuana card holders statewide had fallen from a high of around 30,000 people to around 10,600.
The number of providers fell from more than 4,400 to 414.
Chris Lindsey, president of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association said it's because of the tighter regulations.
But he said there's something bigger looming in the background- fear.
"There are a lot of reasons for people just to say, 'It's not worth it for me to be regulated, I'm much better off rolling the dice and operating in the black market'" he said.
People are afraid of the federal government, Lindsey said, so many have turned back to the black market.
He thinks the answer is for the state to take a stand against the feds, and come up with a regulation system.
But SB 423 is not the answer, he said.
"It gets played as if it's stronger regulation" Lindsey said, adding "but if you compare it to a regulatory system like with alcohol- it's not even close."
State Senator Jeff Essmann sponsored the new medical marijuana law in the last session.
He said medical marijuana is still illegal federally, so the law is doing exactly what they wanted- lowering the numbers, but still providing access.
"I think Senate Bill 423 still provides a mechanism for a small group of truly ill individuals to obtain legal access to the product"
Brown disagrees, saying it blocks access to the people who need it.
He said after he shut down, many of his patients didn't renew their cards because they didn't know where else to go for their medical marijuana.
And, he said, SB 423 and the federal raids have caused patients to distrust in the system.
"People don't want to participate in the program anymore" Brown said. "They don't feel it's a safe enough program for them to get medicine in a safe manner."
He also says he plans to appeal his ability to become a provider.
Lawyers for the MTCIA and the state will go head to head during Supreme Court oral arguments Wednesday morning.
The oral arguments come after the MTCIA sued the state when legislators passed SB 423, saying the law violated constitutional rights.
A district court judge blocked part of the law, but allowed the rest to take effect.
The state appealed that decision, wanting the law to stay in effect as a whole.
After hearing the arguments, the Supreme Court will decide which side to take.
In November, voters will decide the future of medical marijuana- and whether they think SB 423 should stay or go, as part of the Initiative Referendum 124.
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