Biggest stories of 2016: A roller coaster year for medical marijuana

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Montana’s medical marijuana dispensaries lost and then regained the ability to serve more than three patients this year.

Initiative 182, approved in November by 58 percent of voters across Montana and more than 61 percent of those in Lewis and Clark County, struck down a law passed by the state Legislature in 2011 that limited medical marijuana providers to three patients each.

The three-patient limit took effect Aug. 31 of this year after a five-year court battle, forcing the closure of medical marijuana dispensaries across the state and leaving thousands of registered users without providers.

The initiative also says law enforcement is no longer allowed to conduct unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities, although annual state inspections are authorized.

The initiative also says law enforcement is no longer allowed to conduct unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities, although annual state inspections are authorized.

Physicians were also given a measure of protection through the ballot initiative, which repealed the requirement that physicians who prescribe the drug to 25 or more patients annually be referred to the state board of medical examiners.

Though an error in the ballot initiative threatened to delay its implementation until July 1, District Court Judge James Reynolds ruled in December that dispensaries could reopen immediately.

Though an error in the ballot initiative threatened to delay its implementation until July 1, District Court Judge James Reynolds ruled in December that dispensaries could reopen immediately.

As medical marijuana providers return to business, Gov. Steve Bullock’s proposed budget includes a 6 percent tax on sales.

While the Republican controlled Legislature has objected to Bullock’s budget proposal, House leadership said it wants time to review specifics of the tax but noted its general opposition to new taxes.

While the Republican controlled Legislature has objected to Bullock’s budget proposal, House leadership said it wants time to review specifics of the tax but noted its general opposition to new taxes.

As of mid-November, perhaps 10 bills were being prepared for the legislative session that starts Jan. 2. Lawmakers were considering options that included negation of the law to efforts to reform it.

Patient advocates are opposing the tax while the industry, as of late November, was considering its response.

As of November, the most recent statistics available on the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services website showed 7,558 patients were enrolled and 6,557 of those were without providers.

As of November, the most recent statistics available on the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services website showed 7,558 patients were enrolled and 6,557 of those were without providers.

Statewide, 4,631 of those with cards allowing them to use medical marijuana were enrolled because of severe chronic pain, which was by far the largest single category.

Lewis and Clark County had 30 registered medical marijuana providers and 628 people with cards allowing them to use medical marijuana.