A billboard reading “Welcome to Yellowstone County, Where the Will of the People Doesn’t Count” now appears on Montana Avenue in Billings, MT. The billboard encourages Montanans to vote against IR-124, a voter initiative appearing on this year’s ballot that allows voters keep or reject the current medical marijuana law. The billboard was placed by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, best known for its legal challenge to the current medical marijuana law. The new law repealed the popular and controversial voter initiative which put medical marijuana on the books in 2004.
“Through their repeal efforts, the legislature ignored the will of the people and claimed to be abiding by it all at the same time,” says Chris Lindsey, President of the MTCIA. “First, they rushed to repeal the original law and leave patients with nothing. When that failed, the same group of people came up with their current back-door effort at repeal — by making participation in the state program as painful and risky as possible. Voters need to regain control of this issue, repeal the current terrible law and demand a realistic set of regulations. No one wants to go back to the way things were, but what we have now is worse for patients.”
The sponsor of the current law, Senator Jeff Essman, (R) SD 28, is a resident of Billings.
Proponents of medical cannabis say the current law is simply a confusing set of penalties for participants and a mine-field for participants. “If alcohol were regulated like our current medical marijuana program, we would have a thriving black market in alcohol. Working in the black market shouldn’t be a better solution than complying with the law,” said Lindsey.
Neither patients nor providers may legally obtain plants or seeds under the new program, and those who provide cannabis to patients are prohibited from recovering their expenses. “Making the law impossible to comply with isn’t the same thing as regulation,” said Lindsey. “This law just makes it more tempting for people to work around the legal system. The registry numbers in the state program have plummeted, but cannabis didn’t go away — it just went underground. How is that better?”
Diana, a resident of Yellowstone County, finds the new law frustrating. “I rely on a provider to grow cannabis for me. I can’t do it — I’m disabled! That’s why I can use medical cannabis in the first place,” she said. Since March of 2011, the number of providers in the state has fallen by over 90%. “It’s very hard to find professional providers now. If the state is going to allow for medical marijuana, it should come from reputable, legitimate businesses,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to meet a basement grower in a parking lot. How is that the will of the people?”
Both the Democratic and Republican parties have added medical marijuana to their platforms this year, and the Republicans acknowledged the current law falls short. “We look forward to working with both parties to fashion a better solution this next session, but the current law must go. It’s worse than useless — it’s actually harmful,” said Lindsey. The MTCIA website is located at www.mtcia.org.