Billings business leader proposes to ban marijuana

2014-04-18T18:20:00Z 2014-05-29T16:52:09Z Billings business leader proposes to ban marijuanaBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
April 18, 2014 6:20 pm  • 

HELENA — A Billings businessman has proposed an initiative for the November 2014 ballot that effectively would ban the possession, use, cultivation, trafficking and transportation of marijuana in Montana.

Steve Zabawa submitted the measure this week to Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s office.

If approved, it would change state law to say that any drug listed on Schedule I of the Federal Controlled Substances Act “may not be legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana.”

Marijuana is listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

“The initiative would eliminate the current disparity between federal law and state law with respect to the legal status of the possession and use of marijuana,” the proposed ballot measure said.

Montanans voted in 2004 for an initiative to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. The number of people legally using medical marijuana remained fairly low until mid-2009. Then the number of people with medical-marijuana cards in the state skyrocketed from about 3,000 to more than 30,000 over the next two years.

The Legislature in 2011 passed a law that greatly restricted access to medical marijuana. The number of cardholders registered with the state was at 8,307 on March 31.

Zabawa, who owns a car dealership in Billings, said Friday that initiative backers are trying to add clarity to Montana law.

“If it’s an illegal drug by the federal government, it should be illegal in Montana,” he said, adding, “The federal government trumps the state, so why do we want to put our citizens in jeopardy?”

The problem with the current law, he said, is that federal law enforcement officials came in to Montana in 2011 and “hurt a lot of people who thought they were doing nothing wrong.”

He was referring to the federal raids at about two-dozen marijuana growing and selling operations around the state on the same day.

“When the FDA says it’s safe, then it can be sold through our pharmacies with doctors who are trained on the legal drug to prescribe the right dosage amount for the right amount of time,” Zabawa said. “This protects all Montanans.”

“Montana should not be a frontier on what’s going on medically,” Zabawa said. “We would like to clear it up and have federal guidelines.”

In response, Chris Lindsey of Missoula, spokesman for Montana NORML and legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “Marijuana prohibition has been just as ineffective, inefficient and problematic as alcohol prohibition. It’s a colossal failure. And Steve apparently wants to be the champion of that failure.”

Lindsey added, “Marijuana is clearly safer than alcohol. If he wants to protect anybody, he should try to ban alcohol.”

A better solution, Lindsey said, would be to tax and regulate marijuana, as Colorado has done and realized a windfall.

To qualify for the November ballot, backers of the initiative must get the signatures of at least 24,175 registered voters, including 5 percent of the voters in 34 of the state House districts. The deadline for turning in signatures is June 20.

“We feel we can get this handled,” Zabawa said. “We already have a committee set up.”

Zabawa was active in a group of Billings parents who backed an effort by House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, in 2011 to repeal the medical-marijuana law that passed by initiative. The measure passed both houses, but was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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