The status of medical marijuana in Montana will be in the hands of voters once again.
After campaigning since early this summer, Patients for Reform — Not Repeal said this week that it has enough signatures to get the repeal question on the November 2012 ballot.
Supporters collected 35,839 signatures, about 11,000 more signatures than needed.
“For three months, hundreds of volunteers gathered signatures from tens of thousands of Montana voters, ” Rose Habib, volunteer coordinator for Patients for Reform — Not Repeal, said in a press release. “The response we got was tremendous and reinforces that Montanans are not happy that the legislature overturned the will of the voters by repealing I-148. ”
To have voters decide the fate of the controversial Senate Bill 423, which both tightened medical marijuana restrictions in Montana and had parts of it deemed unconstitutional by a state district court, the group needed to get 5 percent of eligible voters in one-third of Montana’s 100 legislative districts to sign.
The petitions gathered more than enough signatures in 70 districts, including the three districts that represent pieces of Hill County. Habib was particularly proud of their success in the home turf of Sen. Jeff Essman, R-Billings, who sponsored SB423.
The bill could have been completely blocked, had more than 15 percent of eligible voters signed in more than half of the districts, but the signature-gathering campaign only receive numbers that high in three districts.
Habib highlighted the importance of the success they did achieve, as she said this is the first time since voters rejected a sales tax 10 years ago that a citizen’s initiative referendum would be on the ballot.
“This is a historic achievement. It is not often that Montana voters exercise their right to refer a bill back to the people, ” Habib said. “But when the Legislature overturns the will of the voters by repealing a citizen initiative, the people are motivated to take back the power. ”
Havre’s representatives, Kris Hansen and Wendy Warburton in districts 33 and 34, voted in favor of Essman’s SB 423 and are confident that their constituents will stand by their decision.
“I think the citizens of Montana got duped the first time around, ” Hansen said. “The law as written and implemented last time allowed for the creation of an industry that no one anticipated when they went to the ballot box.
“It (SB423) looks severe, but it’s not. It’s much more in line with what voters intended the first time. I think it would be a mistake to repeal what we did in the session. ”
“I am not worried about putting the issue back in front of the voters, now that they have had a clear view of what the situation with a medical marijuana law looks like, ” Warburton added. “They have seen the high number of healthy young people getting marijuana, the federal raids on medical marijuana establishments, etcetera. I trust the voters to make an informed vote. ”
Habib said that, judging from the response the petition drive saw in Hill County and other less populated areas, voters had already spoken when they approved medical marijuana in the first place.
“I think that the rural areas of Montana are populated by people who value their votes and are very disappointed when the legislators they put into office override their votes, ” Habib said.
The decision will be one of many for voters to make in the already crowded November 2012 election.