Backers of a medical marijuana initiative, who appear to be fighting an uphill battle, rallied Thursday on the lawn of the Yellowstone County Courthouse.
Coming the day after the final presidential debate, it could be that many people were suffering from “election fatigue,” in the words of Barbara Sample, one of four Initiative 182 supporters who spoke at the noon rally.
Whatever the cause, the rally attracted just five people besides the four speakers, a consultant representing Montana Citizens for I-182 and four journalists. It probably wouldn’t be fair to count the two transients sleeping on the courthouse lawn.
A recent statewide poll commissioned by Lee Newspapers showed 51 percent of respondents opposed to I-182 and just 44 percent in favor, with 5 percent undecided.
Even before the Thursday rally, however, Matt Leow, a spokesman for Montana Citizens for I-182, denounced the poll, which was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
In an email alert, Leow charged that “those poll results were skewed by a poorly worded question. Rather than using the actual ballot language that voters will see, Mason Dixon chose to use this:
“’Ballot Initiative I-182 would allow for wide use of medical marijuana. If you were voting today, would you vote: (yes) to approve the initiative, (no) to reject the initiative, (undecided).'”
Two speakers at the rally, Kari Boiter, a Democratic candidate in state House District 44, and former state Sen. Lynda Bourque Moss, D-Billings, pointed instead to a recent Gallup poll showing that 60 percent of Americans favor legalization of marijuana, up from just 31 percent in 2000.
I-182 would not legalize marijuana in Montana. It would only restore some of the provisions included in an initiative passed in 2005 by 64 percent of Montana voters, creating a medical marijuana program.
In 2011, the Montana Legislature repealed the citizens initiative and replaced it with a new law severely limiting access to medical marijuana. After a five-year court fight, that law was upheld by the Montana Supreme Court and the new restrictions took effect on the last day of August this year.
Boiter said 93 percent of Montana’s 12,000 medical marijuana patients lost their providers on that day. I-182 would, among other changes, lift the legislatively imposed limit of three patients per provider. It would also add post-traumatic stress disorder to the conditions for which medical marijuana could be used.
Other provisions of the initiative would set licensing fees to pay for administering the program and require the yearly inspection of providers.
Sample, a Billings philanthropist, said she was “appalled” by the Legislature’s decision to overturn the will of the people. She urged people to vote for I-182 “simply because it’s the right thing to do. It’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
Moss said she had several medical marijuana dispensaries in her district after the original initiative passed.
“Never once did I have anyone call me to complain about those businesses,” she said.
The fourth speaker was Andrew Forcier, a libertarian running for the state House in District 57 and the Montana outreach coordinator for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate.
Forcier said he was manning a Johnson table at MontanaFair when a woman came up, looked at a Johnson brochure and stopped when she read of Johnson’s support for marijuana legalization.
He said she told him, “If it were not for marijuana, I would not here today. I am a cancer survivor.” She walked away without another word, Forcier said.
Forcier said the decision whether to use medical marijuana should be strictly between a patient and his or her doctor. “There’s no place for a citizen legislature to intervene in that transaction,” he said.
Also at the rally was Kati Wetch, a 27-year-old Billings resident who has been fighting two incurable diseases—Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Chiari malformation—since she was 14. She said she has had 13 brain and spinal surgeries and was put on narcotics at the age of 14.
She was hooked by 16, she said, and at that age, in 2005, she became the first licensed medical marijuana patient after passage of the original initiative. She said nothing but marijuana allows her to control her pain without terrible side effects. It was also the only thing that stopped her from constantly vomiting and it restored her appetite.
“Cannabis is my only source of relief,” she said. “I refuse to go back to the pain game of just existing and not really living.”
Although she is fortunate that her provider is also her significant other, she said, if I-182 doesn’t pass she will probably move to another state where medical marijuana laws are looser, and where patients can obtain concentrated forms of cannabis.