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Montana lawmakers consider bill to decriminalize drug-testing kits

By Dianne Parker,


BILLINGS - A quick drive around Billings will show that drug-testing kits are available in Montana in box stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and dollar stores.

What you may not know is that these are actually illegal in Montana, and that has law enforcement officials and state lawmakers working to make them legal, especially with the rise in fentanyl overdoses in the state.

"It’s pretty imperative we make sure these test strips are not illegal," said state Rep. Katie Zolnikov, R-Billings.

They're illegal due to what lawmakers call “code clutter.” That has Zolnikov working in Helena to strike the word “test” from a long list of items considered drug paraphernalia.

"They are readily available to the public. However, they are technically illegal. There are several tests that are being sold so there are several people across the state that are unknowingly breaking the law," she said.

In Montana, criminal possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison and up to a $500 fine.

"Anyone from individual consumers to law enforcement officers to business owners who are wanting to administer drug tests, are using these drug tests. and it is technically considered drug paraphernalia," Zolnikov said.

The law doesn't appear to be enforced. MTN News checked with the Montana Highway Patrol, Billings police and the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office and found no citations.

"Usually the people we come across are the people who are actually distributing those drugs, either selling or buying the drug, and we’re not seeing the test strips in the individuals we’re arresting throughout Montana," Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Jay Nelson said.

That means moms and dads testing their naughty teens can breathe easy, and a woman with a date rape drug test in her purse won’t go to jail.

But when it comes to public health, supporters of a proposed bill in the Montana Legislature, House Bill 437, say the code clutter has got to go before more people die from fentanyl overdoses.

"Removing fentanyl test strips from the category of drug paraphernalia and enabling people to possess the strips without being subject to criminal penalties will allow people access to an easy to administer and affordable means to determine if their drugs have been adulterated with fentanyl and to take subsequent steps to reduce their risk of overdose," said Rebecca DeCamara, an administrator for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

If approved by the Montana Senate, HB 437 would take effect immediately.

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