Medical Marijuana Bill Could Restrict Access to Mesothelioma Patients

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

The Montana Legislature has proposed a bill that could restrict medical marijuana access to people with asbestos-related health problems, including mesothelioma. Senate Bill 333 would include a seed-to-sale tracking system, laboratory testing, and a tax on medical marijuana determined by weight.

Those against Senate Bill 333 believe it works against small providers, especially those in rural communities with 10 or fewer patients. Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Libby) says this would greatly limit access for the many patients in his district with asbestos-related diseases who obtain medical marijuana from small providers.

“With the advent of the autoimmune diseases and all the other weird things that go along with this that they’re finding, I may be a medical marijuana patient someday,” stated Gunderson.

Two years ago, Gunderson was diagnosed with pleural thickening, which is a common first step to mesothelioma cancer. This cancer is traced directly to asbestos exposure.

Medical marijuana has been used in mesothelioma patients as part of a palliative care plan to reduce suffering. In particular, it is often used for pain management and to reduce some of the side effects of chemotherapy drugs, such as nausea and headaches.

According to Gunderson, many providers in his district of Libby, Montana are concerned and think Senate Bill 333 heavily favors large over small providers. The small town of Libby is arguably “Ground Zero” in the war on asbestos.

Libby is where the W.R. Grace & Company operated asbestos mines for 30 years. To date, nearly half the population in Libby has been diagnosed with asbestos disease in addition to the 400 who have died as a result of exposure to asbestos-tainted vermiculite.

Gunderson had been working for a different measure that would include an interim committee studying the problem for the next two years in order to make changes to the bill. The State Department of Public Health and Human Services would regulate the industry during that time.

“I think we could have made a good bill, but it was too large, too complex, with too many moving parts,” said Gunderson. His proposal did not pass.

According to Natural Solutions Dispensary Owner Casey Palmer, “If you have 20, 30 patients, you couldn’t make it absorbing all these fees, so you probably have to be a 50-or-more provider.”

Senate Bill 333 passed in the House and Senate by wide majorities but has yet to arrive to Governor Seth Bullock’s office for signing.