Marijuana Initiative Claims Hundreds of Volunteers

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Backers of a ballot initiative to suspend a new law cracking down on medical marijuana said Tuesday they have 1,500 volunteers signed up to gather more than 35,000 signatures needed to suspend the legislation.

With far fewer signatures, the group “Patients for Reform — Not Repeal” can put the issue to voters in 2012 without suspending the law in the interim — a goal the group is confident it can meet.

That law also is the focus of a separate court battle in which a judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking portions that prohibit commercial medical marijuana operations and advertising along with unannounced searches of providers.

The marijuana advocates said they need to do away with the Legislature’s restrictive law altogether, rather than just fight a lengthy and expensive court battle.

Ultimately the group wants a different reform law that controls problems under the voter-approved system without quashing the industry and making it too difficult for patients to get pot.

It will not be easy to suspend Senate Bill 423.

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 advocates said they have so far gathered about 2,000 signatures in the seven days since trained volunteers started asking voters to sign on.

Advocates are optimistic their goal will be reached because many marijuana patients and suppliers are very eager to help.

“It is the largest gathering of volunteers I have seen in the 20 plus years I have been involved in initiatives,” said C.B. Pearson, a consultant brought on to help the campaign.

State Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, is supporting the effort. He said fellow lawmakers went way too far with their reform effort, and changed strategies several times in a misguided effort to divine the will of the voters who originally approved medical marijuana.

“The truth of the matter is the Legislature has no business second-guessing what the voters intended,” he said.

Other lawmakers, led by Republicans who first tried to do away with medical marijuana altogether, argued a very stringent law is needed to reign in an industry they said it is creating a runaway marijuana culture in Montana. They argued the old law was being abused and leading to an easy supply of marijuana to non-cardholders.

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