Pubdate: Mon, 22 Aug 2011
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Missoulian
Author: Charles S. Johnson, Missoulian State Bureau 


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

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


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

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

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