HELENA (AP) - Supporters of a proposed initiative to allow Montanans to grow, possess and use marijuana for medical purposes can begin gathering petition signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
The secretary of state and attorney general offices have approved the format of the petition used to collect voter signatures, the final step before backers can begin circulating the petitions.
Initiative 148 would permit the production, ownership and use of marijuana, in limited amounts, for people with a ''debilitating medical condition'' or ''chronic or debilitating disease'' for which marijuana can ease symptoms, such as nausea, severe pain, seizures or muscle spasms.
Patients could use marijuana, under medical supervision, to alleviate the symptoms related to such diseases as cancer, glaucoma and AIDS.
The proposed law would require a qualified patient or the patient's caregiver to register with the state in order to legally have and use marijuana. I-148 limits an eligible person to no more than six plants and one ounce of usable marijuana.
Paul Befumo submitted the proposal on behalf of a Missoula organization called the Medical Marijuana Policy Project.
Befumo said Wednesday he does not expect people to oppose the measure for fear it will lead to broader legalization of marijuana.
''That's a logical criticism until someone reads it,'' he said. ''My job is to educate people about what the initiative does. It's very narrowly drafted. It affects only people with debilitating medical conditions.''
Befumo said he knows of nine other states with similar laws.
To qualify for the Nov. 2 general election ballot, I-148 must have at least 20,510 petition signatures that represent a minimum of 5 percent of the votes cast in the 2000 governor's race in at least half of the 56 counties. June 18 is the deadline for submitting signed petitions to county election officials.
Five other potential ballot measures are in the signature-gathering process.
One would increase taxes on tobacco products by $47 million a year and another would repeal the ban on use of cyanide in new gold mines. Three others would enact a statewide sales tax; cap the motor fuel tax at 18 cents per gallon and eliminate taxes and fees on most passenger vehicles; and create a state-administered vehicle liability insurance program.