Medical marijuana patients in Montana will gain improved access to their medicine under a state law that goes into effect next week. The measure, Senate Bill 265, eliminates a requirement under existing statute known as tethering that limits patients to using only one medicinal cannabis provider.

J.J. Thomas, the owner of The Higher Standard dispensaries in Helena, Missoula, Butte, and Dillon, told local media that the new law will give patients more choice when selecting their medicine.

“No one wants to eat at McDonald’s every day, over and over again, when a thousand different places make hamburgers,” he said. “It’s the same with medication or anything else: people want variety, they want to shop at different places, they want accessibility.”

SB 265 changes a requirement that patients use only one licensed provider to access their medicine. The law, which was passed by the state legislature last year, called for the requirement to be eliminated by June of this year. Last month, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services notified patients and providers that the change would go into effect on June 2.

Monthly Purchase Limit Still In Effect

The new law does not affect the purchase limits that restrict patients to buying no more than one ounce of marijuana per day and five ounces per month, although the daily limit is currently suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Erica Johnston, operations services branch manager for DPHHS, said implementing the necessary system upgrades had taken the agency some time.

“The biggest system challenge is getting that tracking in place that allows a provider to know how much a cardholder has purchased previous to walking in their door, without also giving that provider details of all the purchases that were made at other providers,” Johnston said. “So we want to help protect that privacy and still allow the providers the ability to check on the limits purchased.”

Medical marijuana patients are not required to make any changes and their existing identification cards will remain valid until they expire. Johnston said that she expects the change will make it easier for some patients to obtain their medicine.

“Obviously, these patients have developed relationships with their providers, and where those relationships are good, I don’t foresee those changing,” she said. “But it does allow people who are traveling, if they have to have an extended period of time where they’re spending time with family in another part of the state, they have the ability to access medicine if they need it.”

Thomas said that he believes the change is for the better.

“I truly believe that if you’ve been doing a great job all these years, and you’ve been taking care of people, there’s no reason people aren’t going to continue to shop you,” he said. “I feel like everyone’s going to be just fine, and it’s the best thing that could happen to the industry in a very long time.”