Montana became the tenth state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, as voters there approved the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, known as I-148 on the ballot, by a margin of 62% to 38%, according to unofficial figures from the Montana Secretary of State’s office. The vote came in a conservative state that voted for President Bush and against gay marriage by nearly the same margin.
The Montana initiative creates a registry system for patients with specified diseases and medical conditions. Upon recommendation by their doctors, patients can apply with the state Department of Health and Human Services for ID cards, with which they will not be subject to arrest if in compliance with the quantity limitations in the initiative. While this portion of the new law will not go into effect until the Department of Health and Human Services drafts applications and administrative rules, the law also creates an affirmative defense to prosecution for medical marijuana patients which goes into effect immediately.
As with the marijuana-related statewide initiatives in Alaska and Oregon, the Montana initiative drew opposition not only from local drug warriors but also from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Deputy drug czar Scott Burns flitted in and out of the state in early October, stopping just long enough to lobby disingenuously against the measure.
“I cannot tell anyone how to vote,” Burns said, before trying to do just that. “This is a con by people who want people to legalize marijuana in this state,” Burns said. “They always start with the medical marijuana issue.”
But Montanans were apparently more swayed by arguments that the government should not intervene if a doctor recommends marijuana to a patient. “It was just common sense on the part of the voters,” said Paul Befumo, a spokesman for the Medical Marijuana Policy Project of Montana, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) affiliated group that organized the campaign. “They knew it doesn’t really make sense to put sick people in jail for using marijuana on a doctor’s recommendation.”
While Montana voters went heavily for Bush and the hot button social issue of opposing gay marriage, that did not translate into opposition to the initiative, said Befumo. “This is an issue that transcends the liberal-conservative divide,” he told Cannabis Culture. “But for me, and, I suspect, for a lot of Montanans, it is fundamentally a conservative issue: Who gets to make decisions about your health care?”
“Montana has shown once again that support for medical marijuana is bipartisan and overwhelming,” said MPP executive director Rob Kampia in a statement hailing the victory. “That a state President Bush is carrying by a double-digit margin voted so overwhelmingly for medical marijuana is a signal to officeholders of both parties that it’s time to protect patients and stop this cruel and pointless war on the sick.”
While regulations to administer the program must be crafted, Befumo said he anticipated few problems. “Effective immediately, patients can use the affirmative defense portion of the law, and I do not see opponents attempting to sabotage this because the voters spoke so clearly in support of medical marijuana,” he said. “I’m going back to my regular job now, but I suspect that a group of people will now come together to start working on implementation and another group will start working on how to help people produce their own supplies.”
“This is a huge win,” exulted Bruce Mirken, director of communications for MPP, which contributed significant funding for advertising for the measure and to pay Befumo’s salary. “This is the highest percentage of the vote any state medical marijuana initiative has gotten on the first go round. The only time it went higher was on the second approval in Nevada in 2000,” he told Cannabis Culture. “Considering that this is a Republican state that went heavily for Bush, the results here as well as in cities across the country that approved medical marijuana measures this week are a real clear signal that support for medical marijuana has overwhelming bipartisan support. It’s time for elected officials to notice.”
Montana becomes the second state to approve medical marijuana this year. Vermont approved it through the legislative route in January. Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have workable medical marijuana laws, while Arizona voters approved a similar measure in 1996 that has proved unworkable because it calls for doctors to prescribe (as opposed to recommend) marijuana, making them liable to DEA sanctions.