Montana Passes Measure to Expand Medical Marijuana

Anti-trapping initiative fails, as does initiative to fund brain research

HELENA — Montana voters approved an expansion of medical marijuana, one of four citizen initiatives on the ballot, which is the most in any state election since 2010.

The other ballot measures asked voters to decide whether to ban trapping on public lands, fund brain research and insert a crime victims’ rights law into the state constitution.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA:

The passage of Initiative 182 means that marijuana dispensaries will be able to re-open after they closed in August to comply with a state Supreme Court order.

The high court upheld a 2011 state law after a five-year legal battle to restrict marijuana providers to a maximum of three patients. The law forced dispensaries to close their doors and left thousands of registered users without a legal way to access the drug.

Under the initiative, marijuana dispensaries will reopen, and doctors will be able to certify more than 25 medical marijuana patients a year without being flagged by the state Board of Medical Examiners.

Post-traumatic stress disorder would be added as a qualifying condition, and police will not be able to conduct surprise inspections of dispensaries.

Supporters of the measure say it will allow safe access to marijuana for patients while requiring providers to be accountable to the state.

Opponents say the measure would re-establish a marijuana industry in Montana that would be abused, as in 2011 when there were more than 31,000 registered marijuana users in the state. They say the 2011 law curbed abuses by patients, providers and doctors and should be left in place.

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MARSY’S LAW:

Voters also approved Constitutional Initiative 116, also known as Marsy’s Law, which will amend the Montana Constitution to set rights for crime victims.

They include the right to participate in judicial proceedings, to be notified of developments in a case and to be notified when an offender or suspect is released from jail, among others.

The initiative is named after Marsy Nicholas, who was killed in 1983 by her ex-boyfriend. Nicholas’ brother, Henry Nicholas, is the major funder in the effort to expand the law passed in California in 2008 to other states.

Proponents say the measure will give crime victims the same rights under the Constitution as those accused of breaking the law.

Opponents say the measure is too vague, that Montana already has strong laws to protect crime victims and that the additional cost to cities and counties to enforce it is unknown.

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TRAPPING:

Montana rejected a ballot measure that would have banned animal trapping on public lands.

Initiative 116 would have made it a misdemeanor crime to trap or snare animals on public lands in the state. State officials would be allowed to use traps if other non-lethal methods of capturing wildlife fail.

Supporters of the measure say that by restricting trapping to private lands, the risk of people, pets and wildlife being harmed by traps would be greatly reduced.

Opponents say the measure was backed by animal-rights groups whose goal is to completely ban trapping in the state. The measure would have barred an effective measure for controlling predators that prey on the state’s wildlife and livestock, they say.

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BRAIN RESEARCH:

An initiative to fund brain research by issuing state bonds also appeared to be in trouble in early returns.

Initiative 181 would create the Montana Biomedical Research Authority, a panel that would award $200 million in grants over 10 years through state debt to fund research on brain diseases, brain injuries and mental illness.

“No” votes led the “yes” votes by 15 percentage points late Tuesday.

Backers of the initiative say the research will be needed as Montana’s population ages and the state must deal with more people afflicted by diseases such as Alzheimer’s, in addition to rising rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide by military veterans.

Opponents object forcing the state to go into debt to pay for the measure. Diverting that money could harm other state-funded programs, from education to health care, and there would be little accountability for how the money is spent after the bonds are approved, they say.

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