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Lori Burnam, 66, face of medical marijuana in Montana

File-In Dec. 132012 file phoLori Burnam from Missoultestifies regards Medical MarijuanHelenMont. Burnam who was face medical marijuanadvocacy Montanhas died.

File-In a Dec. 13,2012 file photo Lori Burnam, from Missoula, testifies in regards to Medical Marijuana, in Helena, Mont. Burnam, who was the face of medical marijuana advocacy in Montana has died. Burnam, a cancer patient who recently testified that new legislative restrictions were limiting her access to the drug, died Thursday Jan. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/The Independent Record, Dylan Brown,FILE)

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:19AM

HELENA, Mont. — Lori Burnam, a Hamilton woman with lung cancer who became the face of medical marijuana advocacy in Montana, has died at age 66.

Ms. Burnam died Thursday at her home of what the medical examiner determined was natural causes, said Chris Lindsey, president of an advocacy group that Ms. Burnam testified for in challenging a restrictive marijuana law.

The cancer “had metastasized and was in her bones. The family believes that’s what made the difference,” Lindsey said.

Ms. Burnam also had glaucoma, emphysema and other ailments, and she had been using marijuana to ease her pain and stimulate her appetite since her cancer diagnosis nearly five years ago.

She told the Associated Press in an October interview that she preferred marijuana over other medication because it allowed her to function and interact with her family.

“I want to enjoy the time I’ve got with my family, eating and laughing,” she said then. “I just want some comfort and peace, and I’m entitled to it.”

She was an outspoken advocate whose story was featured in the documentary “Code of the West” that tracked the 2011 legislative debate over adding restrictions to Montana’s medical marijuana law to rein in an industry that exploded after 2009.

The Legislature passed the bill that eliminated compensation for medical marijuana providers and reduced the number of patients to whom they can distribute to three.

Supporters said the restrictive measures would return the law to what voters wanted when they approved medical marijuana in 2004, but Ms. Burnam and thousands of other patients feared they would lose their providers and no longer have to access the drug.

“Anyone who says I can grow my own marijuana doesn’t understand. I’m sick and it isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do,” Ms. Burnam told the AP in October. “Under this legislation, there’s no way to even obtain seeds or the plants. Honestly, it seems the system is made to work against us, not for us.”

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association — which recently changed its name to the Montana Cannabis Information Association — sued over the new law’s constitutionality and Burnam testified from a wheelchair before District Judge Jim Reynolds in Helena on Dec. 13.

Ms. Burnam told the judge the uncertainty over the law — which Reynolds temporarily blocked while the legal challenge was pending — had left her with an inconsistent marijuana supply and that her weight had dropped from 74 to 69 pounds.

She told the judge she wanted to enjoy the time she had left and that marijuana had allowed her to do that compared to other drugs.

“I’m the proof, and the doctor told me, ‘Do what you’re doing. It’s working,’” she said.

Reynolds had previously ruled that patients have a constitutional right to access medical marijuana, but the state Supreme Court overruled him last fall.

The justices sent the case back to Reynolds, telling him to review the restrictions in the 2011 law by determining whether they are rationally related to a legitimate government interest.

Reynolds has extended his temporary block of the marijuana provider provisions while he considers the case.


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