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Fewer Signatures Required to Suspend Medical Marijuana Law

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HELENA – Medical marijuana advocates preparing to mount a signature-gathering effort to suspend a soon-to-enacted law restricting the industry won't need to collect as many names as they initially believed.

They will need to get between 31,238 and 43,247 signatures, depending on which state House districts they use, but they don't need to gather a total of 73,010 signatures as some originally believed.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has said he will let Senate Bill 423, by Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, become law without his signature. Once that happens, medical marijuana backers can launch a signature-gathering effort. They first must file documents with the secretary of state's office, which triggers a review by several state offices.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch's office concluded Tuesday that any efforts to suspend laws need only the signatures of at least 15 percent of the registered voters in at least 51 state House districts, as specified by the Montana Constitution. There are 100 House districts.

But they do not also need to get the signatures of 15 percent of the total number of people who voted for governor in 2008, said Jorge Quintana, the office's chief legal counsel. That would have required the critics of the medical marijuana law to have obtained 73,010 total signatures, including meeting the 15 percent signature requirement in 51 House districts.

To get 15 percent of 51 districts, backers will need between 31,238 and 43,247 signatures, depending on which districts the signatures are gathered in. Using the districts with the fewest voters would require 31,238. Using the districts with more voters would require 43,247 signatures, McCulloch's election staff calculated.

"The numbers are, of course, good news," said Kate Cholewa, spokeswoman for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. "We believed we needed in the ballpark of 100,000 signatures, and we feel confident we could get them. Maybe we still will. Citizens are chomping at the bit to sign something to stop the destruction of the medical marijuana program in Montana. The outpouring of civic involvement is impressive."

Even so, those running signature campaigns usually try to exceed the required goal by some amount, such as 20 percent, to make up for any disqualified signatures by people who aren't registered voters.

The group also raised $50,000 in less than a week to hire James Goetz, a prominent Bozeman lawyer, who will file a lawsuit challenging SB423. The Cannabis Industry Association wants to stop the law from being implemented, which would give supporters time to gather the signatures.

The Montana Constitution empowers citizens to undertake referendum efforts to put a state law on the ballot if they get enough signatures so voters can decide whether to keep it or reject it. That takes the signatures of 5 percent of the registered voters in at least 34 House districts. The total number of signers also must equal at least 5 percent of the state's registered voters.

A suspension goes one step further than a referendum and requires considerably more signatures by stopping a law from being implemented until Montanans vote on it.

The planned effort to suspend the medical marijuana law is believed to the first since Montanans for Better Government, led by Rob Natelson, a former University of Montana professor, successfully suspended an income tax increase in 1993. Voters later rejected the law in 1994.

In Quintana's legal opinion for McCulloch, he said the language in the constitution "cleanly means that petitions must be signed by at least 15 percent of the qualified electors in a majority of each of the legislative representative districts."

Quintana said that conclusion was corroborated by a letter from then-Secretary of State Mike Cooney to then-Gov. Marc Racicot in September 1993 concerning Montanans for Better Government's effort to suspend the tax increase. Cooney said he certified that the signatures on Initiative Referendum 112 equaling at least 15 percent of the registered voters "in each of the 51 legislative representative districts have been filed."


News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: billingsgazette.com
Author: Charles S. Johnson
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: The Billings Gazette
Website: Fewer signatures required to suspend medical marijuana law
 
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