HELENA — Buoyed by the success of voter initiatives in Washington and Colorado, an East Helena medical-marijuana advocate has refiled a proposal to make the recreational use of pot a constitutional right in Montana.
The proposed constitutional initiative by Barb Trego is the first 2014 ballot question submitted to the secretary of state for approval. It duplicates the one that she put forward last year, which did not make it on the 2012 ballot because backers failed to collect the required signatures in time.
Trego is a medical-marijuana user who says switching from prescription medications to pot allowed her to go back to work. She said she supports recreational use in addition to allowing medical use of the drug.
"The fact is it's a lot less dangerous for you than alcohol, and I think people ought to have a choice," she said.
This year, Colorado and Washington passed voter initiatives legalizing recreational use. That has given hope to Montana marijuana advocates despite their recent defeat at the ballot box in an effort to roll back a restrictive medical-marijuana law.
Trego said the votes in Colorado and Washington are encouraging, but she doesn't know whether they are a proper gauge for Montana, which has always gone its own way.
"Montana's always been different, so I don't know if they'll help or not," Trego said. "I think people are going to be more interested this time with the way they've done the medical marijuana law and the way it doesn't work for anybody."
Republican state Sen. Jeff Essmann, who authored the new legislative restrictions for medical marijuana use and distribution, said he does not think Montana voters will go the way of Colorado and Washington.
"The negative reaction that I heard in my district and most legislators heard in their districts two years ago to the proliferation of the (medical marijuana) storefronts indicates I do not think Montanans are ready for legalization of recreation marijuana," he said.
Trego's proposal would add two sentences to the Montana Constitution: "Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations and taxation. Except for actions that endanger minors, children or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of the state shall apply to such activities."
That is the same language approved last year, Trego said. This time, she said she submitted the proposal early so the language could be approved and supporters could be organized with plenty of time left over to collect signatures.
Terri McCoy, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, said petitions may not be circulated for signature gathering more than a year before the deadline for filing a petition. That means the earliest that supporters can start collecting signatures is June 2013.
For a constitutional initiative to qualify for the ballot, backers must gather signatures of 10 percent of the total number of qualified voters in the state — that meant 48,674 signatures to qualify for the 2012 ballot.
Of that total, the signatures must come from 10 percent of the voters in each of the 40 state House districts.