Initiative 124 approval would trigger strict restrictions on medical marijuana

2012-10-07T00:00:00Z 2012-10-07T14:24:03Z Initiative 124 approval would trigger strict restrictions on medical marijuanaBy GWEN FLORIO Missoulian The Billings Gazette
October 07, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Let’s start by clearing up any confusion about Initiative 124.

Voter approval would cement restrictions on medical marijuana approved by the 2011 Legislature.

Rejection would restore the 2004 voter-approved law that legalized the medical use of marijuana in Montana.

So — "for 124" is for extensive restrictions. "Against" ditches them in favor of the less severe 2004 law.

“Trying to explain what will happen under (the initiative) is a little bit ridiculous,” said Bob Brigham, campaign manager for Patients for Reform, Not Repeal. “It’s tough to convince people that it will actually be that bad.”

That’s because the medical marijuana users who would most be affected won’t see the results of last year’s restrictions until after the election.

A court challenge delayed several of the 2011 law’s key provisions, including a ban on paying providers of medical marijuana, and on a three-plant limit per cardholder for providers.

Brigham’s group sees those as both onerous and impractical. Although the 2011 law allows patients to grow their own cannabis, not everybody has a green thumb, he said.

“And there’s the timeline. You get an awful diagnosis, you don’t want to think, ‘Well, I’ll start growing some marijuana now and come harvest time, then I can start chemo,’ ” he said.

Last month, the Montana Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s temporary injunction on the 2011 law.

James Goetz of Bozeman, the attorney representing the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, vowed to take the case back to District Court but said then he didn’t think the court would consider it before the election.

Playing devil’s advocate to his own concerns, Brigham said that the back-and-forth of court action – The restrictions are in place! They’re not! They’re back in place! – is frustrating, “and when people get frustrated, they throw their hands up in the air and vote no.”

The ballot language is indeed confusing, notes an email blast from the pro-Initiative 124 group Safe Community Safe Kids and redistributed by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association as a way to rally its own supporters to vote against I-124.

The Billings-based Safe Community Safe Kids’ email reminds readers that the initiative keeps in place the 2011 legislation that restricted medical marijuana production, distribution and use and says, “Vote for SB423 or Montana will revert back to having the uncontrolled, lawless, rapidly growing marijuana industry we experienced prior to the passing of SB423.”

Missoula City Councilman Dick Haines has looked at the issue from both sides.

As a Republican legislator about a decade ago, he said, he backed a plan to allow medical marijuana to be sold through pharmacies. “I thought that made sense ... but it didn’t fly,” he said. “It was one of the few things that Ron Erickson and I saw eye-to-eye on.” Erickson is a liberal Democrat.

But Haines was no fan of how the 2004 medical marijuana initiative played out.

“I thought it got away from us,” he said. “.... When the (2011) Legislature calmed it down and put restrictions on it, I thought, ‘That’s fine.’ ”

The number of medical marijuana dispensaries exploded around Montana after a 2009 U.S. Justice Department memo that some saw as discouraging federal prosecutions. Although 17 states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, it’s still illegal under federal law.

The “calming” – medical marijuana proponents call it “chilling” – effect actually was provided by widespread federal raids in 2011 that shut down about two dozen of the larger medical marijuana businesses around Montana.

Whatever the cause, Haines – whose only interest now is as a citizen – welcomed the effect. And while he said the 2011 law might not be perfect, he doesn’t see a new initiative as the best way to fix it.

“The trouble (with an initiative) is that it really doesn’t get vetted, really hammered, to see if everything works,” he said. “People say, ‘The Legislature takes so long.’ But when you go that route, a lot of people have looked at it and a lot of people have talked about it.”

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