Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jul 2011
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record
Author: Charles S. Johnson, IR State Bureau 


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

"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repealed the initiative that 62 percent of voters passed in 2004 to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are outraged this initiative was repealed," Habib said.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

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

"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. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.