Proposed Initiative: First Steps

By: Kate Cholewa


The Proposed Medical Marijuana Initiative: First Steps

Twelve years ago Montana voters approved I-148 with 62% of the vote, creating the Medical Marijuana Act and program. I-148 was a simple, basic law meant to implement a new idea. Like all laws, it would need to be adapted as time marched forward. This is the way laws work. They evolve. They get fixed. They catch up to changes in knowledge.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead of developing the law and creating needed sideboards, five years ago, in 2011, the Montana State Legislature repealed the law and replaced it with SB 423, the Montana Marijuana Act, which was ginned up behind closed doors by four legislators in a matter of hours in the last days of the session.

The aim of SB 423 was to dismantle the program. The legislators who repealed the Medical Marijuana Act and crafted the 2011 Montana Marijuana Act didn’t believe marijuana had medical applications so they took the word “Medical” out so as to make no mistakes about it. That’s where they began and from there crafted a system for growing and accessing medical marijuana that defied the laws of agriculture and physics. How do patients start growing if they can’t buy a seed?, for example.

If SB 423 goes into effect, as the recent Montana Supreme Court decision would allow, patients who rely on medical marijuana will lose safe and legal access to their medicine. We cannot allow that to happen.

Repeatedly, when it comes to medical marijuana, the legislature has refused to do their job. They had seven years to fix the old law and did nothing. They have had five years in the courts and two legislative sessions to fix the law they passed in 2011 and have done nothing.

So, once again, the job of fixing the law is left to the people. It is up to the citizens to create a responsible, accountable, and functional medical marijuana program. The nonsensical law (SB 423), which has never gone into full effect, is now slated to be fully implemented. The consequences are severe for those who depend on medical marijuana to treat their conditions.

That is why we have filed an initiative to save and improve Montana’s medical marijuana program. This is the best shot we have at ensuring that Montanans with debilitating illnesses continue to have access to medical marijuana and the relief it provides.

The MTCIA’s proposed initiative aims to address the basics to make this program work with no-nonsense regulations and a non-punitive system of access.

Here’s what it does for patients:

  • Eliminates expensive, unnecessary hoops chronic pain patients need to jump through for access that is not required of those with other approved conditions.
  • Includes PTSD as an allowable condition.
  • Helps assure access to physicians and providers.

Here’s what it does for physicians:

  • Protects them from witch hunts by eliminating the 25 patient trigger that forces a review of the physician by the Board of Medical Examiners for which the physician must pay for him/herself.

Here’s what it does for providers:

  • Clarifies that licensed providers may have employees.
  • Allows more than three patients so that serving as a provider is a viable option.
  • Allows/restores the ability to use testing labs to test the potency of medical marijuana as well as testing for toxins or molds.

Here’s what it does to promote responsibility and accountability:

  • Requires licenses and inspections which make sure standards are set and monitored.
  • Local control – local ordinances can determine local rules and limitations.
  • Residency – Providers must have resided in Montana for at least one year, so these jobs will help support state citizens and there will be no influx of out-of-state “opportunity seekers.”
  • Creates licensing fees to administer and regulate the program so there is no negative impact to the state budget.

We see our proposed initiative as a first run at reforming the medical marijuana program and fixing the law put in place in 2011 by SB 423.

It may be a mere matter of weeks, or maybe months, before more than 13,000 Montanans lose access to the medicine that stops their seizures or pain; allows them to eat; relieves their nausea; and more.

We will not abandon these patients.

The MTCIA’s proposed initiative has passed through Legislative Services. It currently sits with the Attorney General’s Office which has 30 days from March 18 to approve it and send it back to the Secretary of State for approval of the petition form. Once approved, signature gathering will begin.

We will have at least 8 weeks to collect the requisite signatures. Time will be tight, but if we are focused and committed we will be able to qualify for the ballot.

Do the citizens of Montana want medical marijuana to be available to their neighbors, their friends, and their family?

We don’t “think” so. We know so.

Contact the MTCIA if you would like to volunteer or donate to this effort.


“Almost always, great new ideas don’t emerge from within a single person or function, but at the intersection of functions or people that have never met before” – Clayton M. Christensen

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