Montana Mandates Stricter Medical Cannabis Labeling and Distributing Regulations

Montana Mandates Stricter Medical Cannabis Labeling and Distributing Regulations

The long-contentious issue of legalized marijuana – for medical and recreational use alike – has mellowed stabilized somewhat in recent years, as more and more states permit cannabis products for at least the former purpose, if not both. Public opinion shifting in favor of legalization, based on public polls ranging as high as 64 percent approval, has undoubtedly influenced such developments. It thus should be little surprise that the industry's sales are projected to grow 28 percent each year from 2018 through 2021, according to The Motley Fool.

In fact, though the drug is still illegal as a Schedule I narcotic under federal law, the Los Angeles Times recently reported that President Donald Trump pledged to direct federal agencies like the FBI and DEA away from marijuana enforcement. Trump allegedly views marijuana as an issue that should be left up to individual states to permit or ban – though this directly contradicts the opinion of Trump's attorney general, Jefferson Sessions, who has long equated marijuana to drugs like opiates and of late frequently finds himself at odds with the president.

"Montana state officials want medical marijuana producers to precisely label and track their plants."

On a state-by-state level, though, legalization efforts face their own hurdles, mostly with regard to the particulars of regulation. According to The Associated Press, new rules went into affect for medical cannabis in the state of Montana. These guidelines will establish strict monitoring, testing and labeling procedures. Growers, distributors and proprietors of the substance must begin adhering to these rules and may want to take the opportunity to update their label printers so they don't accidentally produce incorrect, non-compliant labels.

New guidelines largely focused on security

Though almost always a conservative state as far as presidential elections are concerned, Montana politics are more varied within its borders. For example, marijuana became legal in the state for medicinal purposes by public ballot initiative in 2004, with only seven American states passing such a law before Montana. However, since legalization, anti-cannabis lawmakers within the state have attempted to defang the legality to such a degree that it's effectively useless. These included a 2011 law limiting cannabis dispensaries to three patients apiece, which would've made their operations commercially inviolable and impractical for those with legitimate medical need. (A state court prevented that law from taking effect, and in 2016 the legislation was repealed by popular referendum.)

The AP reported the new regulations are not of that variety, but are fairly strict. For example, all Montana medical cannabis providers must now send their latest harvest of marijuana crops to state-licensed testing laboratories, to determine that the plants are free of pesticides and other dangerous substances. (Suppliers with 10 or fewer patients are exempt from the rule until 2020.) The amount of marijuana that each provider can grow per patient will also decrease, though it won't be clear how much this quantity will decrease until May 2018.

Further security guidelines include the requirement that plants be tracked online through every step of the growth process, and properly packaged and labeled before sale. ID badges for the employees of cannabis producing operations must also be updated so they're more difficult to counterfeit. 

"The amount of cannabis that a provider can grow per patient in Montana is still being determined."

New expenses for Montana medical marijuana businesses contained within the new regulations include a 4 percent tax on gross sales, as well as annual licensing fees that vary based on the number of patients each provider serves. These costs have a limit of $1,000 and max out at $5,000

Uncertainty regarding regulatory implementation among some providers

Jon Ebelt, a spokesperson for the Montana health department, told the AP that about 20 of the state's 577 providers had already enrolled in the new online registration and tracking system for cannabis plants. 

"Providers have commented that the system is easy to use," Ebelt said. 

From the providers' perspective, things are somewhat less cut and dried, though Montana Cannabis Industry Association spokesperson Kate Cholewa did not seem negative in her analysis of the market's preparedness.

"I think people are as ready as they can be," Cholewa told the AP. 

Factors such as the 20-day grace period from pesticide testing (starting at the regulations' April 10 implementation) allow providers more time to prepare their crops and send them to laboratories. Yet other aspects of the law that haven't taken full effect yet – such as the online licensing and tracking rules and a finalized figure on how much producers can grow per patient – could lead to some confusion among cannabis providers, which might lead to compliance-flouting mistakes. It may thus be wise for Montana's medical marijuana businesses to get involved in the new registration program sooner rather than later, and update their label software and printers to most effectively produce law-abiding packaging and labels.

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