Proposed Initiative Seeks to Ban All Marijuana

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A Billings car-dealership owner has proposed a ballot measure that would completely ban the use and possession of marijuana in Montana, even for medical uses.

The proposal by Steve Zabawa would change state law to say any Schedule I drug in the federal Controlled Substances Act “may not be legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana.”

The proposal submitted to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday aims is to eliminate the disparity between federal and state law in possessing and using marijuana, which is a Schedule I drug, Zabawa said in an email.

Montana and several other states allow the regulated use of marijuana for medical purposes, and about 8,300 medical marijuana users are registered in Montana. Two other states, Washington and Colorado, have approved recreational use of the drug, and federal authorities have not interfered.

Zabawa told Lee Newspapers of Montana that if federal law lists marijuana as an illegal drug, it should be illegal in Montana.

“The federal government trumps the state, so why do we want to put our citizens in jeopardy?” he said.

He cited a 2011 federal crackdown on large medical marijuana distributors across the state that resulted in dozens of convictions. Federal prosecutors said the distributors were illegally trafficking the drug and not following state law, and Montana legislators that year passed new restrictions on who can use and provide the drug.

“Montana should not be a frontier on what’s going on medically,” Zabawa said. “We would like to clear it up and have federal guidelines.”

Zabawa was active in a group of Billings parents who backed a 2011 bill to repeal the medical-marijuana law passed by voters in 2004. The Legislature approved the bill, but it was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the prohibition on marijuana has been a colossal failure and a better solution would be to follow Colorado’s lead in taxing and regulating the drug.

To qualify for the November ballot, backers of the initiative must get the signatures of at least 24,175 registered voters, including 5 percent of the voters in 34 state House districts, by June 20.