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HELENA - Montanans suffering from certain medical conditions may be able to legally smoke marijuana to ease their symptoms come January 1.
The Medical Marijuana Act passed by a 63 to 37 percent margin Tuesday with 375 of 881 precincts reporting. The new act will protect patients, their doctors and their caregivers from state and local arrest and prosecution for the medical use of marijuana.
Teresa Michalski of Helena couldn't be happier. Michalski once lived in fear that her late son, Travis, would spend the last few months of his short life in jail for using marijuana during the last stages of Hodgkin's disease.
"I knew the people in Montana were compassionate and I could count on them," said Michalski, a fifth-generation Montanan.
U.S. Deputy Drug Czar Scott Burns, however, warned Montanans that federal law trumps state law, and said during a recent visit to Montana that no state initiative permitting the medical use of marijuana can circumvent the federal law prohibiting the possession and use of the drug.
"There's no safe harbor," Burns said.
But Paul Befumo, treasurer of the Marijuana Policy Project of Montana, said he's "elated" that the measure passed.
"People don't have to worry about being criminalized any more," he said.
Proponents say smoking marijuana relieves nausea, increases appetite, reduces muscle spasms, relieves chronic pain and reduces pressure in the eyes. It can be used to treat the symptoms of AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma, among other diseases, they say.
Medical marijuana has been approved by voters in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. In Hawaii, a law was passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in 2000. In Vermont, a law was passed by the Legislature and allowed to become law without the governor's signature in May 2004, the Marijuana Policy Project reports.
The Montana measure's campaign was financially backed by the national Marijuana Policy Project out of Washington, D.C.
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