HELENA, Mont. — Organizers of a ballot initiative that aims to immediately reverse severe new restrictions to Montana medical marijuana distribution may have inadvertently set back their cause by half a year with an error written into the measure.
The initiative, known as I-182, seeks in part to lift a restriction that goes into effect next week that will close medical pot dispensaries and limit marijuana providers to a maximum of three patients. Organizers of the initiative estimate that restriction will leave more than 12,000 Montana users, including terminally ill patients, without a legal way to obtain the drug.
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One aim of the initiative is to immediately reverse that restriction upon the voters’ approval in November. Instead, the way the proposed bill is written, the three-patient limit would not be lifted until June 30, adding months of delay to what patients say is an urgent need that must be addressed immediately.
Kate Cholewa, a member of the I-182 steering committee, called the mistake a clerical error that occurred when two new sections of the proposed legislation were added without updating the measure’s effective date.
Parts of the bill would go into effect immediately, while others would go into effect on June 30, under the measure.
Because it’s a technical error, it should be corrected after the vote, Cholewa said.
“It’s an annoyance, not an issue,” she said.
Not so, said Todd Everts, the chief legal counsel of the Montana Legislative Services Division. The language of a voter-approved bill can’t simply be changed after an election, he said.
“That is a substantive change, and if there’s a substantive change, it’s up to the Legislature to make the decision,” Everts said.
The Montana Secretary of State’s Office certified the election ballot on Thursday, eliminating the possibility of any last-minute changes to the language.
The state Legislature does not convene until January, and it is not immediately clear that many of the same lawmakers who passed the restrictions in the first place would be willing to pass a bill reversing them. Another option would be to ask a judge to fix the date, but that path also could take months.
Any delay would be a blow to the three medical marijuana patients who joined the ballot initiative organizers Thursday to submit a petition to Attorney General Tim Fox asking him to delay implementation of the three-patient limit.
“We would hope that everybody here in the state — the AG’s office, the people who put together the I-182 campaign, the courts — would like to preserve safe medical access for the state of Montana,” said one of the patients, Tayln Lang of Hamilton.
The Montana Supreme Court earlier set Aug. 31 as the date to start enforcing the three-patient limit. Most medical marijuana providers serving multiple patients plan to shutter their doors to comply with the law.
Fox’s spokesman said there is nothing the attorney general can do to countermand the state law or the Supreme Court’s order.