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Foes of Medical Marijuana Bill Look To SchweitzerPosted by CN Staff on May 03, 2011 at 19:20:42 PT

By Charles S. Johnson, Gazette State Bureau

Source: Billings Gazette


medical.gif Helena -- Medical marijuana advocates are launching a three-pronged strategy -- veto, sue and suspend -- to stop the recently passed bill that would impose far greater restrictions on the industry and make it harder for people to qualify for medical pot use.


First, they are trying to convince Gov. Brian Schweitzer to change his mind and veto Senate Bill 423, by Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings. Schweitzer said Friday he wouldn't veto the bill, but instead would hold his nose and let it become law without his signature. It has not become law yet.


The groups also may file lawsuits to challenge the future law, which would put medical marijuana growers and caregivers out of business by July 1.


Finally, they want to stop the law in its tracks by mounting a referendum to suspend it before it takes effect and let voters decide the its fate on the November 2012 ballot.


"We're still hoping the governor reconsiders his position and reconsiders," said Jim Gingery, executive director of the Montana Medical Growers Association. "The governor's very unpredictable."


Tom Daubert, founder of Patients & Families United, a medical marijuana advocacy group, added: "No question the priority at the moment and the sole focus at the movement is to try to persuade the governor to change his mind."


Montana NORML, which advocates for legalization of marijuana, is organizing a rally Thursday morning in Whitefish, where Schweitzer will speak to the Chamber of Commerce. The group is calling for "a mass of people, dressed in their Sunday best, politely holding 'Veto SB423' signs," its newsletter says.


Schweitzer reiterated Tuesday that he has no intention of vetoing the medical marijuana bill.


He said he has already made his opinion known about SB423 in the amendatory veto he issued last week. A legislative conference committee adopted some but not all of his changes.


Schweitzer said there were only 17 House votes and 15 Senate votes against SB423 for a combined total of 32 votes. He would need 51 votes -- 34 in the House and 17 in the House -- to uphold a veto on any bill.


"The numbers are not there," he said. "That's the end of it."


The second approach is a lawsuit.


"We're going to certainly going to look at legal alternatives to stop the bill from being enacted on a legal basis," Gingery said.


Daubert agreed, saying: "I've certainly asked some of the most experienced attorneys I know to take a hard look at the bill."


John Masterson of Montana NORML said in an email newsletter that "the right legal action, launched in the right jurisdiction, could prevent or delay implementation of SB423."


"My gut feeling is that there are probably 10-plus big growers out there, with a bundle of cash and a top-shelf lawyer ready to do this -- but, please, you guys, slow down and consider this: If multiple suits are launched in different jurisdictions that argue some of the same points, it's possible the suits could be combined to be heard in one court -- which might be the worst court we could be in."


Jason Christ of Missoula, founder of the Montana Caregivers Network, who signed up thousands of medical marijuana cardholders, said in an email that he's preparing a lawsuit against the state and will post it on his website.


"Keep checking back for the documents," he said on his website. "You will be able to use them for court action against the state of Montana. Montana State Constitution says that we can sue the s— out of our government." He cited the right of privacy.


The final option is to obtain enough signatures to put SB423 on the ballot as a referendum in 2012, or, if with signatures, to suspend SB423 before it takes effect. That effort can't begin until SB423 becomes law.


Gingery said the groups are in the process of preparing a referendum so people can begin gathering signatures at the right time. Daubert called this "a natural thing to think of, too."


Montana NORML said the effort may take 100,000 signatures so some 1,000 signature gatherers must be recruited.


It was unclear from the secretary of state's office Tuesday exactly how many total signatures are needed.


A simple referendum requires at least 5 percent of the registered voters in the state to sign the petitions, including those from at least 33 of the state House districts.


Suspending a law passed by the Legislature requires at least 15 percent of the voters in at least 51 of the House districts.


Source: Billings Gazette, The (MT)

Author: Charles S. Johnson, Gazette State Bureau

Published: May 3, 2011

Copyright: 2011 The Billings Gazette

Contact: speakup@billingsgazette.com

Website: http://www.billingsgazette.com/

URL: http://drugsense.org/url/gfsyvXbR


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