(Montana Free Press) A Missoula judge has denied a request by three medical marijuana providers who were seeking permission to work with a commercial extraction lab.

The decision came during a hearing in Missoula District Court, where Green Tree, Spark1, and Urban Farmer argued that the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services should permit them to do business with Willow Bark Science, a THC extraction lab. THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana, and concentrated THC can be used to make various products, including edibles.

Two other providers — Lionheart Caregiving and Big Sky Herbals and Edibles — sued the state in November after the Department of Health and Human Services backtracked on a decision to allow them to work with Willow Bark. Under a stipulated agreement reached in December,  state regulators have allowed Lionheart and Big Sky to work with Willow Bark as long as they follow regulations for tracking the production and sale of marijuana.

The three providers who were in court on Friday recently joined that lawsuit and were asking the judge for similar approval.

The legal battle has shined a light on the disagreement and confusion in the industry over how the state regulates business between providers and independent THC extraction labs.

During the hearing, an attorney for DPHHS accused Willow Bark and some of the largest providers in the state of breaking state law for doing unlicensed business with each other last year.

Under an agreement reached between Lionheart and Big Sky and the department, the two providers can continue to work with Willow Bark as long as they follow the requirements set forth in the state’s seed-to-sale marijuana tracking system, known as Metrc. That agreement remains in place.

The Metrc system wasn’t fully implemented last August when the providers applied for permits to work with Willow Bark. That led DPHHS to initially reject Lionheart and Big Sky’s permits, which led to the lawsuit a few months later.

The providers who appeared in court Friday said they, too, should be covered by a similar stipulated agreement to work with Willow Bark. Under the existing agreement, Lionheart and Big Sky have a competitive advantage through exclusive dealings with Willow Bark, and that advantage came courtesy of the department, the providers argued.