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New marijuana regulations begin

HELENA – The second phase of Montana’s new medical marijuana overhaul will go into effect Wednesday, allowing the state health department to issue pot cards under new regulations – but patients are confused about what’s next under the new restrictive law.

When Gov. Brian Schweitzer allowed the law to go into effect May 14, the power to issue cards under the old marijuana law was immediately repealed for the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The new law isn’t fully implemented until July 1, but on Wednesday the health department is granted emergency powers to issue new marijuana cards. After the law went into effect, the health department indicated it was writing those emergency rules.

The largest change for patients under the new law is a tighter definition of chronic pain, a diagnosis critics say was abused by patients not in need of the drug.

Now patients must give physical proof of chronic pain, such as an X-ray, or have a second doctor confirm the diagnosis before they can receive a card.

There are a number of other changes to the card-issuing process, including a requirement of Montana residency and tighter restrictions on the number of patients to whom a doctor can prescribe cards.

The July 1 deadline will see the strictest of the new pot laws be implemented. Marijuana will no longer be able to be sold; it must be given away for free on compassionate grounds. Pot shops and growers must close their doors and Montanans looking to work as a volunteer marijuana provider must register with the health department and submit fingerprints for background checks.

The state has over 30,000 registered pot patients.