Pubdate: Mon, 22 Aug 2011 Source: Missoulian (MT) Copyright: 2011 Missoulian Contact: http://www.missoulian.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/720 Author: Charles S. Johnson, Missoulian State Bureau GROUP CHALLENGING MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAW PLEADS FOR DONATIONS HELENA - A medical marijuana advocacy group has made an urgent plea for money to pay its legal bills for challenging a new law and to help a separate committee cover its consulting fees for its signature-gathering referendum campaign. "We need at least 1,000 people to donate $25 or $50, and we need at least 50 storefronts to donate at least $1,000 THIS WEEK," the Montana Cannabis Industry Association's spokeswoman Kate Cholewa wrote on its website Aug. 15. She added, "We cannot count on a few large donors to fund these necessary efforts. Bottom-line, the progress we've made will unravel without support now." By later in the week, Cholewa said that more than $6,500 had been raised since her appeal, including $3,500 the first hour. The Cannabis Industry Association needs $25,000 to $35,000 to keep going, she said. Forty-five percent of the additional money raised by the association will go to pay for the lawsuit costs, while 45 percent will go to the separate referendum campaign being run by Patients for Reform, Not Repeal. The remaining 10 percent will go to the Cannabis Industry Association to continue its work. "On Sunday night, it looked really rough, and on Thursday it stabilized," she said. "That's the wonderful thing about this group is that they show up and under amazing circumstances." She said the medical marijuana businesses are trying to survive. They have encountered changing state rules, had patients without marijuana providers initially after the new law took effect and worry about the possibility of more federal raids. "The landscape is well scuttled," Cholewa said. "People are wanting to grow fewer plants. A lot of people are trying to keep it under 100 (plants apiece). The word on the street is stay under 100 (to avoid potential federal raids)." The association challenged Senate Bill 423, the new medical marijuana law in court. On June 30, District Judge James Reynolds of Helena temporarily blocked some key parts of it from taking effect July 1. "With the injunction, it brought a bit of complacency," Cholewa said. "We have an outstanding (legal) bill. We have an appeal. We have a referendum." The association owes the Bozeman law firm of Goetz, Gallik & Baldwin nearly $61,000 for filing the lawsuit and representing it in court. That's on top of the $50,000 the group raised to retain James Goetz, the lead attorney. After the state attorney general's office announced plans to appeal parts of Reynolds' ruling to the Montana Supreme Court, Goetz said he would do likewise on some different aspects. "The appeal means we start accruing additional costs," Cholewa said. However, she said attorneys believe the Supreme Court appeal may be cheaper in the long run than a District Court hearing on a permanent injunction. *** Meanwhile, the separate Patients for Reform, Not Repeal ballot issue committee is also raising money. It's leading the effort to gather enough signatures to put the new law on the November 2012 general election ballot so voters decide whether to keep or reject the law. Leaders of the group have criticized the 2011 Legislature for making many changes to the voter-passed 2004 state initiative that legalized the use of marijuana for some medical conditions. Cholewa said the patients' group came up with some money to secure the services of C.B. Pearson and his M+R Strategic Services, a Missoula campaign consulting firm, to coordinate the referendum through September. "There's definitely a sense of immediacy," said Rose Habib of Montana, the statewide volunteer coordinator for the patients' group. "We only have six weeks left. We are getting pledges that will pay us through the end of the petition drive." The goal for the patients' group is to collect $30,000 to pay Pearson and cover overhead and other expenses, she said. In addition, Patients for Reform, Not Repeal is receiving some direct pledges to hire paid signature gatherers to help its 400 active volunteers out collecting signatures. Habib declined to discuss the specifics of the ballot group's finances, saying they would be reported later in finance reports filed with the state political practices commissioner. To qualify the referendum, the group needs signatures of at least 24,337 voters statewide, including those of 5 percent of the voters in 34 of the 100 state House districts, by Sept. 30. So far, the patients' group has collected 23,000 signatures and submitted 18,000 to county election officials, Habib said. Its quality control efforts have found 70-85 percent of the signatures are valid or signed by registered Montana voters, she said. Habib said the group is shooting for 39,000 signatures in hopes it would get it to the 24,000-plus needed. "Most people associated with professional signature-gathering campaigns are pretty impressed with what we have done with our army of volunteers so far," Habib said. "It will be on the ballot." The Billings area has yielded the most signatures so far, which Habib believe is in direct reaction to the city and county governments banning medical marijuana storefronts. "The people have spoken by signing the petition," Habib said. The group is sending paid signature gatherers to target specific areas of the state and will hire as many signature gatherers as it can afford. Initially, medical marijuana groups vowed to get enough signatures to also suspend the law immediately once it hit a sufficient number of signatures and put it on the ballot. That suspension goal may be out of reach now. Suspending the law 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. These would be the same signatures for the referendum effort. "If a millionaire comes in, we'll get it," Habib said of suspension. "It would take paid, full-time signatures gatherers for the full time. No one has done this under these particular rules." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.