(HELENA) Montana regulators say they’re almost ready to implement new permanent rules on the state’s medical marijuana industry.

The Montana Legislature’s Children, Families, Health, and Human Services Interim Committee got an update on the state marijuana program during their Thursday meeting.

Erica Johnston, operations service branch manager for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, told lawmakers the agency will release its final proposed regulations by Jan. 30.

Last year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 333, a wide-ranging overhaul to medical marijuana law in Montana. The bill gave DPHHS until April to create rules to fill out the details of an updated regulatory system.

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The department released its initial proposed rules in November. They would increase the fees for medical marijuana cards or provider licenses and require all marijuana or marijuana-infused products to be tested before they were sold. But the proposal received criticism from many patients and providers, who argued the requirements were too burdensome, especially for smaller providers.

Johnston said DPHHS made several changes to their rules in response to the concerns they received. They made adjustments to testing requirements, lowered the license costs for providers with 11 to 50 patients and loosened a rule that providers’ employees have no convictions for drug offenses.

Johnston also told the committee DPHHS has selected the national vendor Metrc to operate Montana’s seed-to-sale tracking system, which will follow all marijuana from the time it is grown to the time a patient receives it. She said the system is expected to launch Mar. 19.

“Ultimately, the goal is to develop a well-regulated program so that people with a debilitating medical condition can continue to access the medicine they need,” said Johnston. “Given our proven track record, I’m confident that medical marijuana implementation by Apr. 30 will experience similar success.”

Lawmakers also heard from Kate Cholewa, government relations consultant for the Montana Cannabis Information Association, a lobbying organization for the marijuana industry. She said her members were pleased with some of DPHHS’s changes, but that they still had concerns about the new rules.

However, Cholewa also said she was concerned that the state’s current system, without the new rules in place, leaves too many uncertainties for medical marijuana producers.

“Those who’ve been following the law have been put at a disadvantage,” she said.

Johnston said Montana currently has 22,213 medical marijuana cardholders. She said there are 611 registered marijuana providers, including 169 with an endorsement to produce marijuana concentrates.

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