70 House Districts Qualified
Montana Voters Show Strong Support for Referring SB 423 to the Voters
HELENA, October 31, 2011 – With the support of over 35,000 valid signatures and qualifying in 70 of 100 house districts opponents of the bill that would overhaul Montana’s medical marijuana program are buoyed by the support they received during the IR-124 petition drive.
Last Friday was the deadline for county elections offices to file certified initiative referendum petitions with the Secretary of State’s office. Now that the final petitions are in, the official tally has grown to 35,839 valid signatures. Additionally, the IR-124 petition received enough signatures, at least 5% of qualified electors, to qualify 70 of Montana’s 100 house districts.
The Montana Constitution requires that an initiative referendum receive valid signatures from at least 5% of the voters statewide, currently 24,337 signatures, and that 5% of the voters in at least one-third of Montana’s 100 house districts sign the petition.
IR-124 received signatures from voters in each of Montana’s 56 counties and all of Montana’s 100 house districts. The valid signatures for IR-124 exceed the requisite 24,337 by more than 11,000, while IR-124 qualified in twice as many house districts as is required.
“For three months, hundreds of volunteers gathered signatures from tens of thousands of Montana voters,” said Rose Habib, volunteer coordinator for Patients for Reform – Not Repeal. “The response we got was tremendous and reinforces that Montanans are not happy that the legislature overturned the will of the voters by repealing I-148.”
The campaign is placing before Montana voters Senate Bill 423, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Essman (R-Billings). Essman’s bill repealed I-148, the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, and replaced it with a new program that opponents say leaves many critically ill patients with no access to the medicine they need.
“SB 423 would force many patients with a prescription for medical marijuana to choose between not having the medicine they need or going to the black market to obtain their medicine,” said Habib. “While the bill allows for patients to grow their own, it provides no legal avenue for obtaining seeds or plants. This is just one of many problems with the new law.”
In late June, a Montana district court found many parts of SB 423 unconstitutional and temporarily blocked those parts of the new law. However, other provisions of SB 423 are in effect and the temporary injunction could be lifted.
Rather than relying on a legal strategy alone, opponents of SB 423 launched an initiative referendum petition drive last summer. The success of IR-124 means that Montana voters will have the opportunity to vote on IR-124 in November 2012 and decide whether to approve or reject SB 423.
“This is a historic achievement. It is not often that Montana voters exercise their right to refer a bill back to the people,” said Habib, “But when the legislature overturns the will of the voters by repealing a citizen initiative, the people are motivated to take back the power.”
IR-124 marks the first time an initiative referendum will appear on the ballot in Montana in 10 years and is just the third time since the new Montana Constitution was ratified in 1972 that Montana voters have placed a referendum on the ballot.