Hundreds of people gathered at the Kalispell Red Lion hotel for a public clinic on medical marijuana Friday held by the Montana Caregivers Network, many with the goal of obtaining a physician’s statement proclaiming that they are eligible for a state-registered medical marijuana card.
Along with the steady stream of people lining up to be seen by one of the doctors at the clinic, there were roughly 30 tables of licensed marijuana caregivers available to answer questions from prospective patients.
John O’Mailia and his wife Katie came up to Kalispell from the Bitterroot Valley to advertise their business, Affordable Montana Caregivers. He said there were only four caregivers present at an August clinic last year, and the influx of new businesses is partially a result of the recession.
“Everybody wants to be a caregiver,” O’Mailia said. “When they passed the law, they created a new industry.”
“I bet you in five years, three-quarters of these caregivers aren’t going to be around,” O’Mailia added.
The clinic ran from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and also included two educational presentations. Caregiver tables offered closeup views of their products, ranging from jars of different strands of cannabis to baked goods containing THC, one of marijuana’s active components.
Lance White and Cory Waggoner of Green Thumb said they too had noticed an increased number of caregiver businesses at the clinic.
“It’s probably the lack of jobs around,” White said. “It’s maybe a fall-back.”
White, whose business serves 18 to 20 clients in the Flathead, White said the medical marijuana markets are flooded in other states, making Montana an easy target for new ventures.
Some members of the public attended merely out of curiosity or in support of friends. Others, such as Tina Leduc, were there to pursue a holistic pain-management method.
Leduc, who came to the clinic from Lake County, was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma last year and said she did not want to take traditional pain medicine to deal with the pain of radiation treatment.
So for 14 months, she said she did without any painkillers. Medical marijuana could be an answer to her problems, Leduc said.
“I don’t like medicine,” Leduc said as she stood in the processing line. “I try to do everything holistic.”
That, according to Carl DeBelly, is the point of the clinic. DeBelly serves as legal representation for the Montana Caregivers Network and has decided to focus his practice in Billings on medical marijuana issues.
There is a gray area for many physicians when prescribing medical marijuana, DeBelly said, partially due to the conflict between state and federal law. Other gray areas come from ambiguities within state law, DeBelly said.
“The statutes are very broad,” DeBelly said of Montana law. “The medical marijuana community as a whole wants more clarity.”
Current Montana law, passed in 2004, allows patients with certain conditions to alleviate their symptoms through cannabis use. The law also allows registered caregivers to possess and grow marijuana plants.
DeBelly, who uses marijuana to treat his rheumatoid arthritis, said the caregivers are striving to achieve social legitimacy within the medical community and general public.
“We’re all really committed to doing this right,” DeBelly said.
There were, however, some skeptics at the clinic. Michael Van Leuven of North Valley Caregivers and Supply was worried patients would not get enough individual time with a doctor to have an effective evaluation.
There was a $100 to $150 participation fee for the clinic. The Montana Caregivers Network Web site said the money covers the cost of the clinic and the doctors’ time.
For more information, visit www.montanacaregivers.net or the state Web site, www.dphhs.mt.gov/medicalmarijuana.