|Photo: Eliza Wiley/Helena Independent Record|
|Senator Dave Wanzenreid (D-Missoula) spoke Tuesday in the secretary of state's office to announce the Initiative Referendum 124 petition campaign by Patients For Reform - Not Repeal.|
It only took a week to get 2,000 Montanans to sign petitions to let voters in 2012 decide the fate of the restrictive medical marijuana law passed by their state Legislature this year, backers of the referendum said on Tuesday.
A group called Patients For Reform - Not Repeal has launched a statewide campaign trying to get enough voter signatures to place Senate Bill 423 on the ballot next year, reports Charles S. Johnson at the Billings Gazette.
If the group reaches an additional level of signatures by September 30, the law will be suspended until voters decide in November 2012 whether to keep or reject it.
The referendum is part of a three-pronged attack by medical marijuana supporters and patients. On another front, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, along with other groups, has mounted a court challenge to the law's constitutionality.
|Photo: Eliza Wiley/Helena Independent Record|
|District Court Judge Jim Reynolds on June 30 blocked implementation of key parts of a new restrictive medical marijuana law passed by the conservative Republican-controlled Legislature.|
On June 30, District Judge James Reynolds of Helena temporarily blocked some parts of the law from taking effect until a full hearing is held. One blocked provision would have prohibited growers from charging patients for medical marijuana, while another would have limited the number of patients each provider could grow for.
"The temporary injunction is just that," said Patients For Reform - Not Repeal petitioning coordinator Rose Habib of Missoula, pointing out the need for the referendum.
The third prong of the medical marijuana effort is a constitutional initiative proposed by Barb Trego, a medical marijuana patient, calling for legalizing marijuana in Montana and treating it like alcohol.
Habib said she's already trained more than 150 "core volunteers," who in turn have taught an additional 500 volunteers on how to gather signatures. More than 1,500 other people have also volunteered, according to Habib.
"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-based consultant assisting the group.
Local election officials must verify that the signatures are those of registered voters in order for them to count.
According to the group, Montanans are upset that the Legislature, through SB 423, repealed the initiative that 62 percent of voters had approved in 2004 to legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons.
"On the front lines of gathering signatures, I've seen that citizens are outraged that this initiative was repealed," Habib said.
|Medical marijuana patient Sarah Baugh: "In a situation that screamed for reform and regulation, we were given repeal instead"|
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, Baugh said, she could return to having several debilitating seizures a day.
"In a situation that screamed for reform and regulation, we were given repeal instead," she said.
"The truth of the matter is the Legislature has no business second-guessing what the voters intended," agreed Senator Dave Wanzenreid (D-Missoula).
To qualify the referendum for the ballot, the signatures of 15 percent of the voters in 51 of Montana's 100 House districts are required. That could be between 31,238 and 43,267 signatures, depending on which districts the group uses.
SB 423 sponsor, Sen. Jeff Essman (R-Billings) defended his crappy anti-patient legislation.
"Even the district judge recognized the Legislature has the authority under Montana law to replace a statute adopted by initiative," Sen. Essmann haughtily said.
Good thing the voters have the authority under Montana law to vote Essman's dumb ass out, next election.
"This is not the first time that a major Republican figure has gone too far and forgotten that Montana is a state that values liberty and privacy," commented the Montana Cowgirl Blog.
"...This was about doing what was right for his own political career, acting like a holy crusader and making a medical cannabis law so onerous that patients will no longer want to bother with the hassle of procuring cannabis at all," "Greenie" writes on the blog.
"Then he could run back to the religious holy rollers who are his base of support, and tell them that he'd cleaned up the state."