With less than a month to go, the medical marijuana advocacy group Patients for Reform — Not Repeal has announced they’ve gathered 30,000 reported signatures.
The organization is gathering signatures to place a referendum on the November 2012 ballot to overturn changes to the state’s medical marijuana laws made during the last legislative session. The organization feels the changes made througn Senate Bill 423 are too strict and therefore detrimental to patients in Montana who rely on their marijuana prescriptions.
“This new program does not work. Seriously ill patients are having trouble getting access to their medicine in the wake of SB 423, ” Sarah Baugh, a patient and spokesperson for the organization, said in a release last week. “Montanans agree that patients with serious conditions should have access to medical marijuana and that government has no business interfering in medical decisions between those patients and their doctors. SB 423 goes too far and harms patients’ rights. ”
Most of the signatures still need to be processed and verified by the counties that hold the districts, to see if they have succeeded in gathering the required 5 percent of voters in each state House district. Patients for Reform said that 14,000 of the signatures have already been processed and 12 of the state’s 100 districts have already been confirmed.
Of those 12 verified, two are in Hill County: District 33 represented by Kris Hansen and District 34 represented by Wendy Warburton. Both Republican representatives voted in favor of SB 423, which the petitions seek to overturn.
Tony Belcourt’s District 32 has not been verified yet, but Rose Habib, volunteer coordinator for the organization, said this morning that she was confident it would soon join the other two, covering all of Hill County. Belcourt was absent from the SB 423 vote.
According to Baugh, in the release, the senate bill was insulting to the Montana voters who voted to allow medical marijuana in 2008, by 62 percent, a wider margin of victory, the release mentions, than either that year’s gubernatorial or presidential elections.
“We agree that Montana’s medical marijuana program needs reform, but we strongly oppose the Legislature’s repeal of I-148, ” Baugh said in the release. “Montana voters should be the ones who decide the fate of an initiative we passed, not the politicians in Helena. It is very disrespectful for the Legislature to overturn the will of the voters as they did. ”
As far as the disproportionate support from a relatively small county like Hill County, for an effort centered in Missoula and concentrating on Helena, Habib said it’s not surprising.
“I find that people in the rural areas are more concerned about their voter rights than people who live in the cities, ” Habib said. “So it’s not hard to find support for a signature-gathering effort. ”
The signature gathering is still moving forward, until their Friday, Sept. 30, deadline, after which results must be confirmed by the counties some time in October.
“We won’t officially know if we made it until late October, ” Habib said. “But progress is good, morale is high, and the support we are seeing from Montana voters is tremendous. ”