MT: Advocates Push I-182 To Increase Access To Medical Marijuana

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Montanans have been voting on ballot initiatives about the medical use of marijuana since 2004. This year will be no different. Initiative 182 would reverse recent restrictions limiting medical marijuana providers to just three patients, which all but eliminated access for more than 12,000 Montanans who have state permission to use the substance.

But the initiative faces intense opposition from Safe Montana, a group that failed to get its own initiative on the ballot. Safe Montana was pushing Initiative 176, a measure that would have banned all legal use of marijuana in the state. The group refocused on stopping I-182 after the secretary of state rejected its original initiative because of problematic signatures.

Supporters of expanding medical marijuana access gathered more than 24,000 signatures in 58 days to put I-182 on the ballot. Its supporters want to reverse the series of legislative and legal actions they say have made it impossible for medical marijuana providers to run viable businesses.

I just dont think there are that many good Samaritans out there, said Jeff Krauss, treasurer for Montana Citizens for I-182. Its really saying cancer patients or MS sufferers have to learn to grow medical marijuana and research what plants help which diseases most. Its really a return to prohibition.

The restrictions, Krauss said, made criminals out of 12,000 sick people.

Krauss said I-182 would lift those bans, while also requiring providers to obtain licenses and submit to unannounced, yearly inspections. It would allow for product testing ensuring safety, consistency and accurate dosing. The proposal would also allow sales of medical marijuana to veterans and other patients diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Were not just rolling back to the laws we had before, Krauss said. Its an improved law.

Katie Mazurek, a 33-year-old Bozeman attorney who is battling breast cancer, said she is looking forward to voting for I-182 in November. For Mazurek, medical marijuana seems like the safer option when compared with the large number of addictive pain pills she is prescribed.

Chemotherapy takes such a physical and mental toll on me, Mazurek said. Some days are hard, and medical marijuana helps me to deal with the side effects of the chemo.

Krauss said he and other I-182 supporters are spreading the word about the initiative through rallies and letters of support. Krauss said hes hoping to see Missoula, Helena, Bozeman, Great Falls, Butte and Billings lead the way in support of I-182.

Yet billboards opposing I-182, paid for by Safe Montana, have popped up across the state. Krauss doesnt like it.

After I-176 failed to qualify, they spent money to sue and tried to get back on the ballot, Krauss said. What they have done instead is form a ballot committee to oppose I-182. Weve filed complaint because theyre using the same ballot committee that supported I-176 and using it to attack I-182.

Krauss said it should be illegal to use one committee for multiple purposes.

Steve Zabawa, director of Safe Montana, said the complaints filed against his group are frivolous and silly.

While he said its true that the same ballot committee working against I-182 was the same group supporting I-176, he and the committee sought approval for doing so in July, he said.

Zabawa also said although Safe Montana is anti-recreational marijuana, it is a pro-medical marijuana organization that wants the legislation done differently than I-182 supporters.

We want medical marijuana laws modeled under a normal medical situation where its prescribed by doctor with warning labels about the side effects, Zabawa said. We want simple things like regular testing of marijuana so everyone knows what he or she is getting.

Zabawa said under I-182, medical marijuana patients wont need a doctor, there will be no monitoring nor collecting of data, and it wont allow unannounced police visits.

He said the last thing he wants is for Montana to end up like Washington or Colorado, where, he said, 18-year-olds are reaching their hands into jars and telling you about the marijuanas fragrance.

This years initiative puts Montana on the same road as those other states, Zawaba said. Instead, he wants voters to reject expanding the old law and instead build a new medical marijuana program run by pharmacists and doctors, who only prescribe marijuana to people with clear illnesses.

I dont think anyone has ever been turned down for a green card, Zabawa said. If you can fog a mirror, you can get a green card.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Advocates Push I-182 To Increase Access To Medical Marijuana
Author: Kasey Bubnash
Contact: 406-243-4310
Photo Credit: Kelsey Johnson
Website: Montana Kaimin