Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jul 2011 Source: Helena Independent Record (MT) Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record Contact: http://helenair.com/app/contact/letters_to_editor/ Website: http://helenair.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/1187 Author: Charles S. Johnson, IR State Bureau MEDICAL MARIJUANA: 2,000 SIGN PETITIONS TO PUT LAW ON BALLOT HELENA - In just a week, some 2,000 Montanans have signed petitions to let voters in 2012 decide the fate of the more restrictive medical marijuana law enacted this year, referendum backers said Tuesday. A group called Patients for Reform - Not Repeal recently launched a statewide campaign seeking enough signatures to place Senate Bill 423 on the ballot next year. If it obtains an additional level of signatures by Sept. 30, the law will be suspended until voters can decide whether to retain or reject the statute. The referendum is part of a three-pronged attack by some medical marijuana businesses and patients. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association and others challenged the constitutionality of the law in court. On June 30, District Judge James Reynolds of Helena temporarily blocked some key parts from taking effect until a full hearing is held. One enjoined a provision that would have prevented growers from charging patients to supply them with medical marijuana, while another would have limited the number of patients each provider could grow pot for. "The temporary injunction is just that," said Rose Habib of Missoula, petitioning coordinator for Patients for Reform - Not Repeal, citing the need for the referendum. The third effort is a constitutional initiative, proposed by a medical marijuana patient, calling for decriminalizing marijuana in Montana. So far, Habib said she's trained more than 150 "core volunteers," who in turn have taught 500 more volunteers on how to gather signatures correctly. More than 1,500 other people have volunteered, she said. Local election officials must verify that those signing the petitions are registered voters so they count. "It's the largest gathering of volunteers I've ever seen in the 20-plus years I've worked on initiatives," said C.B. Pearson, a Missoula consultant assisting the group. Speakers said Montanans are upset that the Legislature in SB423 repealed the initiative that 62 percent of voters passed in 2004 to legalize the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. "On the front lines of gathering signatures, I've seen that citizens are outraged this initiative was repealed," Habib said. *** Sarah Baugh, a patient from Helena, said the new law jeopardizes her safe access to medical marijuana and in turn threatens her health. Without medical marijuana, she said, she could return to having several debilitating seizures daily. "In a situation that screamed for reform, and regulation, we were given repeal instead," she said. Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, agreed, saying: "The truth of the matter is the Legislature has no business second-guessing what the voters intended." To qualify the referendum, the group needs signatures of 5 percent of the voters in 34 of the 100 state House districts - or at least 24,337 signatures. Suspending it takes the signatures of 15 percent of the voters in 51 of the 100 House districts. That requires between 31,238 and 43,267 signatures, depending on which districts they use. In response, SB423 sponsor Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, defended it. "Even the district judge recognized the Legislature has the authority under Montana law to replace a statute adopted by initiative," he said. Through SB423, the Legislature was trying to fix "the fundamental problems" with the initiative that the Department of Public Health and Human Services failed to address, he said. These included abuses in certifying people claiming severe and chronic pain for marijuana cards and in allowing 12 physicians to authorize more than 90 percent the medical pot recommendations to patients over the past year. Essmann said those in the medical marijuana industry "talk about tough regulation," but offered none in their so-called "gray bill" that died in committee. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.