I-182 and Polls

How do you know the Mason-Dixon poll question on the medical marijuana initiative, I-182, is a politically-driven push poll, and how does the polling change when you use the actual ballot language rather than the mischaracterizing rhetoric?

Here’s how the Billings Gazette reported the poll question was framed:

“This ballot measure would allow wide use of medical marijuana, undoing many restrictions passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015.” (It was actually 2011. They changed it in their news story when they were corrected. When the poll was done did they say 2015?)

Based on this language, 51% of voters said they opposed the initiative while 44% said they supported it. Five percent of those polled said they were undecided.

Then came the headlines: Majority Opposes Medical Marijuana Initiative.

One can certainly point to the inflammatory language “allows for wide use” or “undoing many restrictions” as evidence of being a push poll. Nothing about the actual content of the initiative, just a characterization of it, comparing it to a nebulous, undefined something else – “restrictions.” But the weightier evidence is where it says undoing many restrictions “passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.”

So, voter, if you identify as a Republican, this initiative is attempting to un-do the provisions you, as a Republican, would want.


First, let’s go back to the “undoing restrictions” language. This has been a repeat offense of reporting on I-182. I-182 ADDS provisions to the current law to make the program more Transparent and Safe (requires licenses, mandatory inspections, testing labs). It “undoes” the 3 patient limit and the provision requiring physicians to pay for the Board of Medical Examiners to review them if they refer more than 25 patients.

In addition, it preserves police powers.

From Section 18 (50-46-339). Law enforcement authority

“Nothing in this chapter may be construed to limit a law enforcement agency’s ability to investigate unlawful activity in relation to a person or individual with a license or registry identification card.”

I-182 does not “undo restrictions.” I-182 removes provisions passed in the 2011 law that aimed at keeping the program from working, provisions many have said they wouldn’t support today. These provisions were designed to get as close to repeal as possible, given that Governor Schweitzer vetoed the 2011 repeal bill. This characterization is not ours. It was how it was described by those who crafted and supported the legislation in 2011 – “as close to repeal as possible.”

Removing these provisions address a third goal of I-182: Functional. The program has to be functional or it doesn’t exist. This was the objective of the 2011 law – to make the program so dysfunctional that it didn’t really exist. This goal was realized and is demonstrated by the fact that when the 2011 law went into effect in August of 2016, 93% of all medical marijuana patients lost their provider.

There are also side issues of anti-medical marijuana zealot, one-man show Steve Zabawa and his shell of an organization, SafeMontana, having and publishing the Mason-Dixon/Billings Gazette polling data on his facebook page before the Billings Gazette had released the results, driving them, then, to run the story that day.

So, Steve Zabawa got the favor of a polling question that pushed his agenda. He received the polling data (from somewhere) before it was released. Then, he turned around and screwed the people helping him along by publishing their expensive polling data and scooping them.

What a fine comrade.

Steve Zabawa driving the content of a major Montana newspaper is troubling. Zabawa has expressed that he believes himself also to be Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte’s puppet-master as he has claimed that Gianforte will put the Commissioner of Political Practices Jon Motl in jail for him if he gets elected because of Motl’s finding of Zabawa being in violation of campaign finance laws . (Gianforte’s campaign has said Gianforte has no plan to do this.)  Zabawa also sits on Ryan Zinke’s health care advisory committee bringing his skills as a car salesman with a personal ax to grind to the matter of health care in Montana. Steve Zabawa is the 18th top contributor to Montana political campaigns (as Rimrock Auto). That must be why Republicans tolerate this joker screwing with their reputations.

But the MTCIA has spoken to many Republican legislators and candidates over the course of this campaign season. Overwhelmingly they have said they support access to medical marijuana and I-182.  Were they lying? We don’t think so.

So why is Mason-Dixon(?)/Billings Gazette(?)/Lee papers(?) trying to leverage the Republican brand against medical marijuana access?

Does the Republican Party mind being used like this by car salesman from Billings?

When voters are polled on the actual ballot language, rather than push-polled for the sake of pushing a political agenda, the outcome is very different. 59% support. 32% oppose. Below is polling data on the actual ballot language from Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. from September 2016.



So who came up with the polling language in the Mason-Dixon poll? The pollster? The Billings Gazette? Lee papers? Steve Zabawa? Whoever it is, they should file as an incidental committee, working on behalf of SafeMontana to eliminate medical marijuana access for Montanans with debilitating illnesses.

(Aside from all that, it’s pretty provocative that even with such mischaracterizing language calculated to get a “no” response, only 51% were against.)


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