Medical Pot Advocates Finalizing Ballot Initiative

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Medical marijuana advocates in Montana said Monday that they hope to start gathering signatures soon in an effort to block stringent new state regulations, even as the group awaits a judge’s decision on a legal challenge to the new law.

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association has so far made the court arguments the focal point of its effort to derail a law that goes into effect Friday. A Helena judge has indicated he may block at least part of it.

But medical marijuana growers have a backup plan if the whole law is not stuck down in court. The advocates are confident they will be able to gather enough signatures in the coming months to suspend the law until voters can decide in 2012.

The attorney general’s office revised the group’s proposed ballot language late last week, toning down the description of the new restrictions put in place by the Legislature.

The industry was working with election officials early this week to finalize wording on the forms that will be used to gather signatures.

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association said it is confident it can gather the number of required signatures to suspend the law before the Sept. 30 deadline to do so.

It would take 15 percent of the number of voters who voted in the 2008 gubernatorial election from at least 51 legislative districts to suspend the law. That would return the state to the old law first approved by voters in 2004, and voters would then be asked to approve or reject the new law on the 2012 ballot.

It would take more than 35,000 signatures to suspend the law, and perhaps thousands more depending on which legislative districts the group chooses to target for signatures.

The group could collect signatures from just 5 percent of those voters to put the question on the 2012 ballot, but the new law would remain in place during the interim.

The group plans to train volunteers before kicking off the signature drive in early July. The group said the volunteers are motivated to go out and get signatures to protect their livelihoods or their supply of medical marijuana.

“We feel like we already have a pretty significant and enthusiastic infrastructure that is overeager to collect signatures,” said Kate Cholewa, with the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. “We have people eager to sign these who aren’t patients, who aren’t caregivers, people don’t like the Legislature undoing what the people did.”

The industry was in support of an interim compromise that would have put more restrictions on the industry while allowing much of it to remain in place and making it more difficult to get a medical marijuana card.

But Republicans during the legislative session earlier this year, holding out for a bigger crackdown, forced the more stringent law that does away with the for-profit dispensary industry.

Critics argued that medical marijuana had grown out of control. Montana has more than 30,000 registered medical marijuana users out of a total population of less than 1 million — one of the highest adult user rates out of the 15 states that allow medical use of the drug.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.