State appeals ruling that blocked parts of medical pot law

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana has appealed a judge's ruling that blocked parts of a medical marijuana law passed by the 2011 Legislature.

The law was aimed at reining in the state pot industry that included providers with large greenhouses and traveling clinics that helped hundreds of people obtain medical marijuana cards.

District Judge James Reynolds has twice blocked provisions of the law that prohibit advertisement and commercial sale of medical marijuana as well as provisions that limited providers to three patients and called for reviewing the practices of doctors who had recommended medical marijuana for 25 or more patients within a 12-month period.

None of the four challenged provisions of the 2011 law have taken effect because of injunctions issued by Reynolds in 2011 and again this year.

Attorneys for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association and other plaintiffs will be allowed to respond

The attorney general's office filed the appeal on Wednesday, arguing that the Legislature passed the law with the legitimate government interest of trying to balance the competing interests of sick Montanans who use marijuana while limiting conflict and potential liability under federal law that still outlaws pot, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported.

The "indication provided by the federal government ... was that while the federal government may not expend the manpower to prosecute sick Montanans using marijuana, it could and would prosecute persons growing marijuana commercially," the state argued.

The state also argued that advertising to engage in illegal activity is not constitutionally protected speech.

Montana voters in 2004 passed the initiative to legalize medical marijuana for certain diseases. There were about 2,000 cardholders in March 2009 — a number that peaked at 31,500 over two years later.

The number of medical marijuana cardholders fell to about 7,000 in June 2013 then jumped to about 11,500 last month.

Federal agents raided several commercial growers across the state in 2011 and some were sentenced to prison.

The latest records show 216 physicians are registered to recommend medical marijuana to patients. Nine have recommended medical marijuana to more than 310 patients including one with up to 3,820 patients.

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