Last gasp 

Pot could go back to ballot

The medical marijuana industry isn't going down without a fight.

On Friday, Senate Bill 423 will hit the books. When the law takes effect July 1, patients will still be allowed medical marijuana but it will be much harder to obtain. The multimillion-dollar industry that's grown around the Medical Marijuana Act will be outlawed.

Unless, that is, the industry succeeds in its last-gasp effort to suspend the law—perhaps the measure most debated by the 2011 Montana Legislature, other than the budget—and put the issue to voters in November.

"It's an incredibly difficult task," says John Masterson of Montana NORML.

There are two steps. First, to get an initiative referendum on the ballot—a citizen response to a legislative act—at least 5 percent of qualified voters in each of at least one-third of the legislative representative districts, a total of 24,337 people, must sign a petition. That's the relatively easy part.

The second step—to suspend the law until voters can weigh in—requires between 31,238 and 43,247 signatures. Petitions must be signed by at least 15 percent of the registered voters in each of at least 51 of the legislative representative districts.

The entire process doesn't require two separate petitions, but separate thresholds.

Before signatures can be collected, though, the petition language needs to be approved. Terri Knap, the Secretary of State's communications director, explains that her office, the state's legislative services division, and the Attorney General's office all need to OK it.

An initiative referendum was last attempted in 2002, and was last successful in 1994.

It's a tall task, but the Montana Cannabis Industry Association announced this week that it was able to raise $50,000 in a few days to hire big-time Bozeman attorney Jim Goetz, who will lead the effort to delay and ultimately kill SB 423. "The people of Montana aren't going to take the decimation of Montana's medical marijuana law lying down," said MCIA board member Kate Cholewa.

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