Medical marijuana providers raise questions about new proposed limits on growing space

Posted at 5:48 PM, May 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 15:06:54-04

HELENA – Some medical marijuana providers are raising concerns about the state’s latest proposed rule changes for the industry.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services held a public hearing on the proposals in Helena Thursday.

DPHHS implemented wide-ranging changes to the state’s medical marijuana regulations last month. The latest proposals are intended to address some issues that were raised about those new rules.

The largest change would be in each provider’s allowed growing space, or “canopy.” The proposed rule would separate providers into 20 tiers, based on how many patients they serve. Each tier would have a different maximum canopy.

Providers with 20 patients or fewer would be allowed 20 square feet of growing canopy per patient, up to a maximum of 400 square feet. The largest providers, with more than 4,065 patients, could have up to 81,230 square feet of canopy.

Several opponents said during Thursday’s hearing that the proposed rules would make it harder for smaller providers to continue operating and providing enough medicine for their patients.

Barbie Turner, a dispensary owner from Libby, pointed out that the proposal would let DPHHS reassess a provider’s allowed canopy at least four times per year. She said that would be especially hard for those near the edge of one of the tiers.

“If two patients move, it will impact up to 1,200 square feet for some providers,” she said. “And so you will have to shut down and tear down plants, and then you reapply them and shut them down again. It doesn’t work.”

John Buhrman, a provider from Dillon, said he’s concerned about yet another change being made to the medical marijuana system, which has undergone a number of reforms since 2016.

“Anyone that was in this business and made financial plans based on the very recently adopted regulations may have a very hard financial burden placed on them,” he said.

Under the current administrative rules, each provider is allowed up to 50 square feet of canopy for each patient they serve. In March, some state lawmakers criticized that provision, saying that amount of space would produce more marijuana than any one patient would need. DPHHS leaders agreed with those concerns, saying they had also determined the maximum canopy was too large after visiting providers.

But on Thursday, several providers who grow in outdoor greenhouses or using organic methods said they space their plants farther apart than other growers, so they would be able to grow less in a given canopy.

DPHHS leaders said they believe the proposed change to the canopy rule would limit the risk of overproduction while still giving cardholders enough access to the medicine they need.

The agency will keep taking public comment on the rule proposals through May 11. Once the rules are finalized, DPHHS leaders say they will applied retroactively, starting from Apr. 10, when the most recent rule revision took effect.