Medical marijuana issue likely on ballot, eminent domain doubtful

2011-09-28T18:50:00Z 2011-09-28T23:55:04Z Medical marijuana issue likely on ballot, eminent domain doubtfulBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
September 28, 2011 6:50 pm  • 

HELENA — With signatures due at county courthouses Friday, it appears highly likely a proposed referendum on the more restrictive new state medical marijuana law will qualify for the November 2012 election, while one targeting a new eminent-domain law will fall far short.

To qualify for the ballot, a referendum needs the signatures of 5 percent of the voters in 34 of the 100 state House districts or at least 24,337 signatures.

As of the latest update Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch's office reported tabulating 19,973 qualified signatures so far for Initiative Referendum 124, the proposed medical marijuana measure referendum. It has qualified in 31 House districts.

In contrast, IR-125, the eminent domain referendum, had only 1,614 signatures tabulated by the secretary of state's office and qualified in only one House district.

These tallies are of signatures already turned in to election officials at the various counties, checked to make sure those signing were registered voters and submitted to the state.

Counties have until Oct. 28 to send all verified signatures to the secretary of state's office for a final statewide tally.

The state totals this week wouldn't include signatures on petitions still being checked at the county election offices and those not yet submitted. Election officials must verify that those signing the petitions are registered Montana voters.

"We're confident we're going to get it on the ballot," said Rose Habib of Missoula, volunteer coordinator for Patients for Reform — Not Repeal, the lead group for the medical marijuana referendum. "We're still gathering every last signature from across the state. A lot of people are coming in just now that have been collecting all summer and haven't turned in any yet."

She called the signature gathering "a testament to how much this means to people that they've spent their summer vacations doing this."

"We've been turning them in as we go," she said of the signatures Wednesday "We didn't want to inundate them (election officials) on Sept. 30. We want them to be happy when they look at our work."

Patients for Reform — Not Repeal is seeking to get 30 percent more signatures than needed, Habib said, with the excess serving as insurance to cover those signatures that might be rejected.

Habib said she doubts that the group would be able to meet the higher signature threshold to suspend the law immediately until Montanans decide its fate on the ballot next year.

Suspending the law requires the signatures of 15 percent of the voters in 51 of the 100 House districts. That would take between 31,238 and 43,247 signatures Friday, depending on which districts they use.

Meanwhile, efforts to reach Kate Ord of Dillon, representing Concerned Citizens Montana, the lead group on the eminent-domain referendum, were unsuccessful.

However, one person advising the campaign said it appears that signature-gathering effort won't be successful.

"I think the chances of making it on the ballot are very slight," said Public Service Commissioner John Vincent, D-Gallatin Gateway. "Because it's a grass-roots effort, the organization and funding that were needed were just not there."

However, Vincent said he hopes that the groups opposed to the eminent-domain law instead come up with an initiative for the 2012 ballot. That way, he said, the ballot measure could repeal the controversial 2011 eminent-domain law and propose a new law in its place.

It also would give the groups a longer time to gather signatures, get organized and gather signatures. Signatures wouldn't be due until last June of 2012.

Opponents of both the 2011 medical marijuana and eminent domain laws also have challenged both in separate court cases.

Parts of the medical marijuana law have been temporarily suspended until a hearing can be held on the request for a permanent injunction. Meanwhile, both the state attorney general's office and the Montana Cannabis Industry Association have said they will appeal different parts of the judge's decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

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