Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jul 2011
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Helena Independent Record
Author: Charles S. Johnson
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


In just a week, some 2,000 Montanans have signed petitions to let 
voters in 2012 to 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 in 
November 2012 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 new 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 provision would have prevented growers from 
charging patients for supplying 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repealed the initiative that 62 percent of voters passed in 2004 to 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are outraged this initiative was repealed," Habib said.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 at least 
24,337 voters, including those in 5 percent of the voters in 34 of 
the 100 state House districts.

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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom