Cannabis science influencing Montana law

As Montana's legislature prepares its agenda for the upcoming session, the state's medical cannabis law settles into the crosshairs. Initiated law and its inherent clumsiness makes legislators wring their hands at the power wielded by an electorate angry with gridlock.

Matthew Frank at the Missoula Independent brings a science-based report from a researcher's perspective. This excerpt from his lengthy study begins with Dr. Noel Palmer:

"It's the dosing," says Palmer, co-founder of Montana Botanical Analysis, located in the Bozeman Medical Arts Center. "That's one area where I feel like our work has really impacted physicians and the general public. Those are concerns that seem to be fairly common. How do you dose this stuff? But you can. We're here and we're doing it right now...We can talk numbers. It's not just some dude who makes cookies in a kitchen."

Palmer does indeed talk numbers. He thumbs through a stack of files and pulls out a printout of a recent analysis. The liquid chromatographer detected a handful of cannabinoids—the active constituents of cannabis—with the biggest blip on the chart corresponding to THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive and analgesic substance in cannabis.

Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, who drafted a bill for the 2011 legislative session that would repeal Montana's voter-approved Medical Marijuana Act, says the cannabis labs' work makes him more likely to embrace the burgeoning industry.
Palmer becomes giddy when his explanation of cannabis' biosynthetic pathway reaches CBD, a cannabinoid with no psychoactive effects that, therapeutically, may be more promising than THC. He refers to it as "the silver bullet of the modern cannabis movement."

"It's not about THC anymore. It's about everything, the blend. It's all of these in there," Palmer says, pointing to the cannabinoids written on his whiteboard. "We think of them working symbiotically."

"Law enforcement needs a clear protocol," Palmer says.

More to the point, law enforcement needs a medical marijuana law that better reflects how medical marijuana is being used. Mark Long, chief of the Montana Narcotics Bureau, points out that cannabinoid quantification matters little to his colleagues because the law defines usable marijuana only as its dried weight.

Credit the cannabis labs then for at least providing a service it appears most Montanans, no matter their position on medical marijuana, can support. As the Legislature will surely prove when it tackles the topic in January, consensus ends there.

The South Dakota legislature will be seeing some lobbying by advocates of medical cannabis. Who will listen?

Photo: Chad Harder.

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