Breaking Down the Ballot Issues

Voters will fill out ballots to determine where Montana stands on trapping, medical marijuana, brain disease and research, victim's rights

By Molly Priddy
Voters at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell. Beacon File Photo

Voting in general elections means choosing local, state, and national leadership, but it also means citizens get to have their say on specific issues affecting Montanans.

This year, the initiatives that garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot touch on trapping, medical marijuana, brain disease and research, and a constitutional amendment. Here’s a breakdown of the issues, with information courtesy of the Montana Secretary of State’s Office.

CI-116

Constitutional initiative 116, also known as Marsy’s Law, seeks to add a new section to the Montana Constitution establishing various rights for crime victims. Those include the right to participate in criminal and juvenile justice proceedings, to be notified of changes in the offender’s custodial status, to be present at plea and sentencing hearings, or any process that may result in the offender’s release.

Proponents for Marsy’s Law say it will give crime victims a Bill of Rights in the Constitution, providing for more notification of various stages of the case and hearings.

Opponents to CI-116 argue that this bill comes from a California businessman and his coalition, and that Montana already has strong laws to protect crime victims, rendering the amendment costly and unnecessary. They say the proponents missed the chance to amend existing laws, and CI-116 may cross Constitutional lines when it comes to a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

I-177

Initiative 177 seeks to prohibit the use of traps and snares for animals on any public lands within the state’s borders, and establishes misdemeanor criminal penalties for violating the trapping provisions. State wildlife employees could still use traps if other methods of capture are ineffective. It would reduce state funds by about $61,380 per year due to a loss of trapping-license revenue, and could incur further costs for new Fish, Wildlife, and Parks employees.

Proponents see this initiative as a way to reduce dangers that traps pose for people, pets, and wildlife. Trapping is part of Montana’s history, but they say it’s no longer necessary to maintain the livelihood of local economies. Traps can be set 50 feet from a trail, making it unsafe for wandering dogs or children. They also argue that trapping ignores Montana’s tradition of “fair chase” when it comes to hunting, and is indiscriminate in its prey.

Opponents to the initiative claim it is actually bad for wildlife and costly for cattle and sheep ranchers, because roughly 40 percent of the wolves killed in Montana were taken by trapping. They say I-177 would pose a significant threat to public health for diseases like rabies and the plague. Opponents also argue that trapping dates back to the time of Lewis and Clark, and is a “cherished family tradition like hunting.”

I-181

Initiative 181 would establish the Montana Biomedical Research Authority to oversee and review grant applications for the purpose of promoting the development of therapies and cures for brain diseases, injuries, and mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, brain cancer, traumatic brain injury, and stroke. The grants would be funded through state general obligation bonds. It would authorize the creation of state bond debts for $20 million per year for 10 years. General fund costs would be $17.38 million total for the first four years and peak at $16 million per year from 2027-2037.

Proponents believe this initiative could provide hope for tens of thousands of Montanans, and an independent panel of doctors, nurses, representatives from patient advocacy groups, veterans, and Montana Indian tribes would award the grants to state universities, hospitals, and research facilities.

Such research could prevent the medical costs and lost work costs these brain issues can incur; Alzheimer’s impact on Medicaid is expected to increase from $140 million in 2015 to $214 million by 2025. These costs more than outweigh the costs that I-181 would incur, proponents say.

However, opponents say the cost for I-181 is too high and would put Montanans in debt. It would allow the board to request the sale of state bonds, deposit the money in an account outside the state treasury, and issue grants for research projects that have failed to garner them elsewhere. It could also create winners and losers in the medical service community, with some providers receiving state services while others don’t.

I-182

Initiative 182 would rename and amend the Montana Marijuana Act. It would be the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, and would allow a single treating physician to certify medical marijuana for a patient diagnosed with chronic pain, including PTSD. It would repeal the limit of three patients for each provider and low providers to hire employees to cultivate, dispense, and transport product. It would repeal requirements for doctors who prescribe medical marijuana to more than 25 people to talk to the state Board of Medical Examiners. It would remove the authority of law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of these facilities, and would require annual inspections from the state.

Proponents say I-182 would be more in line with what voters wanted in 2004 when they approved medical marijuana on the ballot with 64 percent support. It would fix the requirements from the Legislature’s SB423, which places restrictions on patient and client numbers. It would create licensing fees to pay for the law’s administration. And I-182 would provide access to veterans and other patients diagnosed with PTSD.

Opponents to I-182 say it would cause an explosion in medical marijuana cardholders and providers. They said there was significant abuse of the 2004 measure, which the Legislature’s SB423 put back into order. Opponents argue I-182 is designed to establish a marijuana industry in Montana.

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