Cherrie Brady knows it will take a miracle.
The Billings woman is one of the organizers of an eleventh-hour effort to qualify Citizens Initiative 165 for the November ballot. If 24,337 valid signatures are collected in the next two days, the initiative would give voters a chance this fall to repeal the medical marijuana act they resoundingly approved in 2004. A signature on a petition only qualifies the initiative for the ballot but does not necessarily mean the signer agrees with its intent.
“Thirty thousand signatures in a week is a huge undertaking,” Brady said, noting that their target allows a cushion for signatures that can’t be verified. “But my personal feeling is, if you educate Montanans on what is happening, those signatures will come rolling in.”
As of late Tuesday, organizers Brady and Laura Needham were unable to guess how many Montanans had signed their petition. They do know, however, that in one afternoon, 250 petitions had been downloaded from the Safe Community Safe Kids’ website at safecommt.org.
“I don’t know who downloaded them or where,” Brady said.
The two also know that the clock is ticking. The group has until 5 p.m. Friday to reach its goal.
“We’re working frantically,” Brady said. “We’ve got people helping us in cities across the state.”
In Billings, the group has volunteers going door to door. But more successful are its “drive-by” petition sites, where people can pull over and sign a petition without even getting out of the car. If someone pulls up on the opposite side of the street, Brady said, they’ll even cross over to meet them.
“Time is of the essence,” said Laura Nelson, a supporter. “The meth program did it in a timely fashion and we can, too.”
On Tuesday evening, organizers were gathering signatures at several sites around town: the corner of Grand and Shiloh, near the WalMart in Laurel, on 32nd Street West near Centennial Park and on Main Street in the Heights.
“That’s the fastest way we know to collect signatures,” Brady said. “It’s working so well, we’re hoping the other cities take it up.”
Because statute mandates that the signatures come from 34 different house districts, the locations of signature-gathering stations are subject to change as supporters continue their efforts on Wednesday and Thursday. The 32nd Street West location, however, is expected to remain active through Friday afternoon.
Hertha Voorhis, owner of Hertha’s First Pharmacy, has set up her own signature gathering station at her independently owned pharmacy inside the Evergreen IGA on 13th Street West in Billings. She plans to keep it open through the week and so far, she said, most customers have been more than willing to sign it.
Voorhis supports the signature drive because she thinks Montana’s medical marijuana act can only be corrected by repealing the original and rethinking the matter.
“Medical marijuana does have a medical purpose,” she said, but added that it’s already available through proper channels. “It (original initiative) has gotten diverted. It has no regulations and no parameters.”
If the group fails to qualify its initiative, they’ll either lobby for legislation supporting their cause or try another initiative drive next year.
But why the last-minute rush this spring?
The momentum didn’t begin until late April, when Brady and Needham attended a city council meeting and learned about the mushrooming medical marijuana industry.
“I left that meeting a different person,” Needham said. “I learned that 12 caregivers were providing (marijuana) within 1,000 feet of our schools. That thought has me out on the streets.”
In late May, Safe Community Safe Kids submitted its draft initiative to the state. Two weeks later, only minutes before 5 p.m. on June 12 the initiative earned official approval, allowing them to launch their eleventh-hour signature drive.
“I really think there’s hope,” Needham said. “Some people, I don’t even have a chance to say anything to them and they grab the clipboard out of my hands and sign it.”
“If people want to see this repealed then this is their opportunity,” Brady said. “They need to locate a petition and have their voice heard. Because after Friday, it’ll be too late.”