Back in March, the Supreme Court in Montana upheld a law that was supposed to go into effect in 2011, which would limit dispensaries, create an insanely low 3-1 patient to physician ratio and also restrict physicians to seeing only 25 patients in a year for recommendation. Anything above this would be subject to immediate investigation – which is a set-up for the program to see failure, and as of August 31st will leave over 10,000 patients without access to medical marijuana.
Later in March, a group called Safe Montana launched an initiative that would repeal the medical marijuana program entirely – potentially putting the state back a step on marijuana reform. Unfortunately, they currently claim to have at least 30,000 signatures, which will likely contain the 24,175 valid signatures needed by June 17th. This would give voters the option to end the program and leave thousands of patients without access to medicine.
The good news is that another initiative has also collected at least 30,000 signatures and are still collecting them up until the deadline, and this group wants to bring some life back into the medical marijuana program. Montana Citizens for I-82 is the most recent campaign to join the mix shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the restrictive 2011 changes.
Their initiative would remove the 3 patient per doctor limit as well as the limiting number of patients the doctor can see during a year period. It also creates licensing fees to cover the cost of the program so it does not negatively impact the state’s budget. It would also allow for product testing to ensure the consistency of both product and dosage. Along with these changes, it would go even further by removing obstacles for patients with chronic pain and would add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.
“What we’re trying to do with this initiative is create a responsible and accountable program, we need to pass a responsible and accountable law. That’s what we do with this initiative. For all those involved,” Cholewa said.
This group has managed to do all of this in as little as three months, everything it took Safe Montana since late 2015 (around October) to accomplish. Honestly, that shows just how much more support their group really has than the other. After all, before the first restrictions were set in place, there were 30,000 people registered to use medical marijuana – though that number is now down to around 13,000 you can bet that all of those, even those no longer registered, are still in favor of the program.
“I think that shows in some ways they are not parallel. I think that Montana has always wanted a responsible medical marijuana program,” Cholewa said. “I think everybody at this point knows somebody, who knows somebody who has had a chronic illness relieved by using medical marijuana. We are very confident the state is behind us.”
Overall, even if both of the initiatives end up on the ballot, things are definitely looking better for the Montana Citizens for I-82, especially considering their quick collection of signatures. With the large voter turnout that is expected for the November election, I expect that if medical marijuana passed once before, if the truest messages are spread to the voters, they will not repeal the law and I-82 will pass, giving the state’s medical marijuana program the second chance it deserves.