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Montana’s Medical Marijuana Initiative Could Accidentally Delay Patient Relief

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The state of Montana just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to their medical marijuana struggle. This Wednesday the state will implement a measure from 2011 that has been continuously delayed due to court cases against it – the new restrictions will impose a 3 patient limit for suppliers as well as restricting the number of patients a physician can recommend medical marijuana to in a year. These new restrictions will force dispensaries to close their doors, and will cost over 12,000 patients legal access to a much needed medicine.

After realizing there was not going to be a choice in the matter, a group of activists created I-182, a ballot initiative that aims to set the program back to its original state. The petition managed to collect more than 3,000 signatures above the minimum needed to qualify and I-182 will be on the ballot this November; but a clerical error in their language – the very last line of the 20 page document – could end up setting them back further than ever imagined.

In most cases, an initiative changes – at least somewhat – from the time it is first drafted to when it is approved. During this process, the initiative was rewritten but a single date was not changed – one that would effectively remove the 3 patient limit on suppliers. As it is worded now, that particular part of the initiative would not take effect until June 30th, 2017 – eight months after the initiative would be approved.

“All the intent is clear,” said Cholewa. “It’s a clerical error, and we’ve been told there are avenues for fixing this in such a way that would let the initiative go into effect as intended. It would be pointless for it to go into effect in June.”

While Kate Cholewa, spokeswoman for the initiative, believes that there should be no problem changing the wording back to its original intent, not everyone is inclined to agree. Montana legislative Code Commissioner Todd Everts says that it would be up to legislature to decide whether or not to change the date to a sooner one. He says that since the legislative session doesn’t start until January 1st, 2017, so it would be weeks or even months later before a change was made, if one was made at all.

Taking the matter to court may be another option if the wording simply cannot be changed to reflect the date intended – activists in Montana certainly are not afraid to take matters to court. Unfortunately, the courts don’t have the best record of siding with patients in Montana and neither do the lawmakers. If the initiative passes, and all potential methods are exhausted, it may end up being halfway through next year before medical marijuana patients in Montana see legal access to their medicine once again.