|Graphic: THC Finder|
Montana medical marijuana advocates are getting ready to start a signature-gathering effort to suspend a soon-to-be-enacted law restricting the industry — and they won’t need to collect as many names as they initially believed.
The Secretary of State’s office has determined that advocates need at least 31,238 signatures to block the Legislature’s medical marijuana overhaul bill from becoming law, reports Charles S. Johnson at the Billings Gazette. It could take up to 43,247 signatures, depending on which state House districts they use, but they won’t need to gather 73,010 signatures as some originally believed.
Governor Brian Schweitzer has said he intends to let Senate Bill 423, by Sen. Jeff Essmann (R-Billings), become law without his signature. When that happens, marijuana advocates can launch a signature-gathering effort. They must first file documents with the sectary of state’s office, which triggers a review by several other state offices.
Any efforts to suspend laws need only the signatures of at least 15 percent of the registered voters in at least 51 state House districts, as specified by the Montana Constitution, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s office concluded on Tuesday. There are 100 House districts in Montana.
But advocates do not also need to get the signatures of 15 percent of the total number of people who voted for governor in 2008, according to Jorge Quintana, the office’s chief legal counsel. That would have required opponents of the medical marijuana crackdown to have gotten 73,010 signatures, including meeting the 15 percent signature requirement in 51 House districts.
To get to 15 percent of 51 districts, backers will need between 31,238 and 43,247 signatures, depending on the districts where signatures are gathered.
|Graphic: Montana Cannabis Industry Association|
”The numbers are, of course, good news,” said Kate Cholewa, spokeswoman for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. “We believed we needed in the ballpark of 100,000 signatures, and we feel confident we could get them. Maybe we still will. Citizens are chomping at the bit to sign something to stop the destruction of the medical marijuana program in Montana. The outpouring of civic involvement is impressive.”
Even so, signature gathering operations usually try to exceed the required goal by at least 20 percent, to make up for any disqualified signatures by people who aren’t registered voters.
The Montana Cannabis Industry Association also raised $50,000 in less than one week to hire James Goetz, a prominent Bozeman attorney, who will file a lawsuit challenging SB 423. The association hopes to stop the law from being implemented, which would give supporters time to gather signatures.
The Montana Constitution empowers citizens to undertake referendum efforts to put a state law on the ballot if they can get enough signatures so that voters can decide whether to keep or reject it. That takes the signatures of just 5 percent of the registered voters in at least 34 House districts. The total number of signers also must equal at least 5 percent of the state’s registered voters.
A suspension goes one step farther than a referendum, and requires considerably more signatures by stopping a law from being implemented until Montanans vote on it.
The effort to suspend the medical marijuana overhaul is believed to be the first since Montanans for Better Government successfully suspended an income tax increase in 1993. That law was then rejected by voters in 1994.
Montana has already lost 93 medical marijuana providers since federal raids on cannabis businesses in the state, according to state health officials.
There were 4,755 caregivers registered with the state at the end of April, compared to 4,848 in March.
This is despite the fact that the number of medical marijuana patients in Montana has topped 30,000 for the first time. There were 30,609 registered marijuana patients at the end of April; that number represents 3 percent of the state’s population.
Several caregivers closed up shop after federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided 26 locations around the state in March.