Q: What’s wrong with IR-124?

IR-124 is the new name for Senate Bill 423, enacted by the legislature in May 2011. We are AGAINST IR-124 because It repeals I-148, Montana’s voter-approved medical marijuana law. The new program it creates harms patients and endangers doctors and others who try to help patients who need medical marijuana.

A court has already blocked several parts of IR-124 after finding them likely to be unconstitutional.

Among the problems we see with IR-124:

▪  It makes it much harder for cancer patients, or people with glaucoma or AIDS to even qualify for medical marijuana.

▪  The bill requires patients to grow their own marijuana or force someone to grow it for them for free. The bill provides no other way to get it.

▪    The bill also provides no legal way for patients or providers to obtain plants or seeds to grow.

▪  Doctors say the new requirements are much harder to follow, harder than they even face with regular prescription drugs. Some doctors say they will simply stop recommending medical marijuana rather than try to comply.

Q: Does your organization support the way medical marijuana was being implemented before this law passed?

Patients all over Montana want one thing: Safe, reliable access to medical marijuana when they need it. The prior system often provided that. But it was not perfect, and we would like to see reforms. We can all agree that the system could have been better regulated.

We are AGAINST IR-124 because we believe that we do not need to repeal the original voter-approved law to get good regulations. In fact, in 2010, a legislative bill (HB 68) was drafted with widespread, bipartisan support precisely to regulate medical marijuana without repeal. That’s the right direction, but that’s not what IR-124 is all about.

Q: But there were problems with how the original law was being implemented. Don’t we need reform of the medical marijuana law?

We all know that there were problems. But with IR-124, the 2011 Legislature went too far by repealing the original law and replacing it with an unworkable new program. They did not even want to ask the people to approve their changes, even though lawmakers were repealing a voter initiative.

We can tighten up the medical marijuana law without repealing it or making such a mess that the new system helps no one. This referendum allows Montanans to vote on the Legislature’s version. If voters go AGAINST IR-124, that rejection will tell the Legislature to try again with a more constructive, bipartisan regulatory effort that respects patients’ rights. Then we can begin to make real reforms that will protect and regulate medical marijuana so that it works for patients and for all Montanans.

Q: I heard that a judge already blocked the new law. Why do we need to vote on this referendum?

That’s partly right. On June 30, 2011, after three days’ worth of hearings, Judge James Reynolds did issue a partial injunction against the new law. But the judge’s decision applied only to a few of the most egregious parts, which he found likely to be unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the original voter initiative is repealed because the rest of IR-124 is now in effect. It has shut down safe, legal access for seriously ill patients in need of medical marijuana.

Having this referendum on the ballot invites all Montanans to now debate what is the right direction for regulating medical marijuana. We believe very few will support the 2011 legislature’s version. When voters go AGAINST IR-124, that will be a message to the incoming new legislature to try a new regulatory approach that does a better job of balancing voter intent, patients’ rights and the needs of our communities.