BOTH SIDES: IR 124, putting the 2011 Legislature’s marijuana reform law up to a public vote

Continuing our coverage of the ballot measures before voters this November, we finish with a look at Initiative Referendum 124.

It puts the 2011 Legislature’s medical marijuana reform up to a vote of the people.


It does not mean the state medical marijuana industry would go back to the way it was if the measure is voted down.

I’ll write this a couple times throughout this story to try to clear up any confusion; a vote for IR 124 keeps the medical marijuana reform bill passed by the 2011 legislature in place, a vote against IR 124 repeals that reform.


It was one of the most intensely debated issues of the last legislative session.

“What we’ve seen over the last year is not what those of us who wrote the law and promoted it ever imagined or envisioned,” said former lobbyist Tom Daubert speaking before a legislative committee during the session. He was the face behind the 2004 legalization effort of medical marijuana.

That law passed with more than a 60 percent majority. It was vaguely written, though and by the time the 2011 Legislature convened, 20 thousand Montanans held the so-called green cards allowing marijuana use. Clinics were being held, registering hundreds of patients at a time. Marijuana storefronts were operating in towns and cities across the state, employing an estimated 14-hundred people.

“I was for the full repeal,” said Republican Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives Mike Milburn.“That’s what I was hearing out there, that Montanans got duped on what the purpose of the first initiative was for medical marijuana.”

Republican Speaker Milburn’s full repeal of the medical marijuana law passed Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. It was then vetoed by Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer.

There was still wide consensus across the political spectrum that some changes to Medical Marijuana regulations needed to be made. A reform bill introduced by Billings Republican State Senator Jeff Essman passed both the legislature and the Governor’s office.

Senate Bill 423.

“This new law has made it virtually impossible for me to safely and legally access my own medication,” said Helena resident Sarah Combs, who is still a registered marijuana patient through SB 423.

“They took away the votes of the Montana voters in 2004,” she said.

The marijuana community was quick to gather enough signatures to put SB 423 on the November ballot as IR 124.

Remember, a vote for it keeps the reform, a vote against it repeals it.

This new law puts an end to the marijuana industry. It significantly restricts who qualifies for marijuana and how they can access it. As a result, cardholders fell from a high of 30 thousand in May of 2011 to about 8 thousand.

Republican House Speaker Mike Milburn says that number is still very high.

“Those people, they’re not medical marijuana users, they’re recreational marijuana users and the state has to get that under control,” Milburn said.

Sarah Combs flatly disagrees. She says she absolutely is a medical marijuana user, and she calls the reform absurd.

“A patient can’t legally get seeds, they can’t legally get clones. How are they supposed to start legally growing for themselves,” she said.

“Well, we have to remember that it’s really not legal to grow,” House Speaker Milburn said. “We have said from a state standpoint that you can do it but we can’t circumvent the federal government.”

In the Spring of 2011, as lawmakers were debating the various reform bills, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided Marijuana facilities around the state, destroying inventory and arresting growers. All of it was an apparent reversal from a 2009 Obama Administration memo labeling medical marijuana a low priority for federal agents.

Those raids actually start to make IR 124 a bit more complicated.

Bob Brigham is a spokesperson for patients for reform—a state marijuana advocacy group. He says I’m not quite right to say that a vote for IR 124 keeps the Legislature’s reform in place, a vote against it reverts the state back to the old medical marijuana law.

He says IR 124 is unique in that usually with ballot measures, the status quo is one of the options.

“Neither of the choices are to continue as things are today,” he said.

Let’s start with a yes vote. It does affirm SB 423, the legislature’s reform. But that law has actually yet to be fully implemented.

“There’s still currently an injunction against that law taking effect,” he said.

That injunction is a result of a lawsuit by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. It blocks the part of SB 423 saying providers cannot make money from their product.

So patients are still buying from some caregivers right now. The State Supreme Court has already ruled to lift that injunction, but it still hasn’t quite happened yet because of formalities in the appeals process. When the injunction is lifted, the state would then see SB 423 as it was originally intended for the first time.

Then, a no vote.

“Well, this is confusing too,” Brigham said, “because a no vote does not go back to the way things were a couple of years ago.”

Brigham points out that the medical marijuana shops across the state didn’t necessarily shut their doors because of SB 423. Remember, that injunction still allows them to operate, for the time being. The shops have closed down because of the federal raids and storefront owners’ fear the same thing would happen to them.

Also, this summer the Montana Supreme Court came out with several rulings restricting marijuana use outside of the Legislature’s reform bill.

“Nobody can claim that if people vote no on IR 124, that we’re gonna go back to the Wild West,” Brigham said, adding those days are gone forever.

Let’s sum up and try to put this the best way.

A vote for IR 124 keeps the legislature’s reform bill in place as it will be after the injunction is lifted and businesses really do need to shut down.

A vote against IR 124  puts Montana on another new path, the old marijuana law post federal raids and post new restrictions put in place by the State Supreme Court.

This story uses excerpts from my Montana PBS special on the ballot measures, “From the People: Montana’s 2012 Ballot Measures”

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BOTH SIDES: LR 122, prohibiting the government from mandating the purchase of health insurance

BOTH SIDES: LR 121, denying certain state services to illegal aliens

BOTH SIDES: LR 120, requiring parental notification prior to abortion for a minor

BOTH SIDES: LR 122, prohibiting the government from mandating the purchase of health insurance

We’re looking into the last of three legislative referenda appearing on the November ballot. These are measures referred to the voters by the state legislature.

The full first clause of LR 122 says, “an act prohibiting the state or federal government from mandating the purchase of health insurance coverage or imposing penalties for decisions related to the purchase of health insurance coverage.”


I don’t know if this rings any bells, but it should. It’s probably the most controversial element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare.”

This referendum has run into a little bit of a hitch though.

“It really has no impact whatsoever,” said Helena Democratic State Senator Christine Kaufmann.

LR 122 was drafted before the US Supreme Court issued its ruling on the Affordable Care Act. That June ruling declared the US Constitution does allow the federal government to mandate the purchase of health insurance coverage. And a law passed by the voters of Montana cannot overrule that.

So in some ways, LR-122 would effectively be a statement from the people.

Republican Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives Mike Milburn says it’s an important one to make. He says the Federal Government mandating to states is becoming more common.

“States should have certain rights and when we see those being encroached upon, we need to push back,” Milburn said.

Democratic State Senator Christine Kaufmann does support the Affordable Care Act, so she wouldn’t want to make that statement. But she says this kind of gesture is pointless anyway.

“It’s an exercise in futility,” she said. “Why should we spend all this emotional energy saying ‘get out of the way federal government, we can handle this ourselves’ when we’ve never been able to handle healthcare ourselves and it’s going to be a meaningless solution.”

LR 122 would be unconstitutional the moment it passes. But, a lawsuit would need to be filed against this new Montana Law and the law would need to be declared unconstitutional by a judge. That ruling could then be appealed, so on and so forth. These things take time.

Meanwhile, if Mitt Romney wins the Presidential election, he has vowed to do everything he can to repeal ObamaCare. Say Romney wins and gains enough Republican support in the House and Senate, repeal is possible. If that repeal happens before LR 122 is declared unconstitutional, then it would no longer be unconstitutional.

MILBURN: “So, it’s still very applicable and we’re hoping it will pass just to send that message,” Milburn said.

Another indication that the fight over health care reform is far from over.

This story uses excerpts from my Montana PBS special on the ballot measures, “From the People: Montana’s 2012 Ballot Measures”

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BOTH SIDES: LR 121, denying certain state services to illegal aliens

BOTH SIDES: LR 120, requiring parental notification prior to abortion for a minor

BOTH SIDES: LR 121, denying certain state services to illegal aliens

We continue our look into each of the five ballot measures appearing on this November ballot, looking into Legislative Referendum 121, an act denying certain state services to undocumented immigrants.

State lawmakers make the call to put legislative referenda on the ballot with a simple majority. Partly, it’s a strategy to bypass a veto from the governor’s office, putting a bill up to a vote of the people instead. But Republican Speaker of the State House of Representatives Mike Milburn says it’s a risky strategy that should be used sparingly.

“We are a representative form of government,” Milburn said. “That means we are elected to go in and study the issues…evaluate them and then make the best choice.”

Milburn says the legislature has an entire staff dedicated to making sure everybody has the best information possible. He says issues are then debated thoroughly through a very redundant system. Milburn believes the problem with the ballot measure process is that kind of debate doesn’t happen.

“So most people go into the election process not knowing much about the Initiatives or Referendums or whatever it might be that are put up,” he said.

Milburn says Republican lawmakers were careful in which measures they decided to put on the ballot. He calls them comparatively simple, easy to understand, and largely values-based.

That brings us to LR 121, “an act denying certain state-funded services to illegal aliens.”


The measure requires anyone seeking these services prove their citizenship. Those who can’t must submit to a federal database search.

“If you’re not paying your taxes, if you’re not a resident of our country, of our state, then you shouldn’t have access to the benefits we all pay into,” Milburn said.

These are services like unemployment insurance or workers compensation. LR 121 would not allow illegal aliens to work for state government or receive a permit to practice a trade or profession. It also denies services for the physically disabled or those who are victims of crimes.

Helena immigration attorney Shahid Haque-Hausrath believes that’s just wrong.

“I think the average Montanan would say all victims of crime, regardless of immigration status should be able to access certain services to be able to seek redress for the crime they’ve been a victim of,” he said.

And while LR-121 provides greater enforcement for much that is already illegal, Haque-Hausrath points out it also makes some services illegal to undocumented immigrants for the first time. Like the right to attend a public university.

“If you’re gonna pay your own way and you’re not gonna be getting any college tuition, I don’t se e why we should be limiting access to public education to anyone,” Haque-Hausrath said.

Proponents of LR 121 tout the measure as a way to quickly and equitably screen for citizenship, much in the same way we do when applying for a state driver’s license.

Haque-Hausrath and other opponents say the state would be charged for using the federal database to check citizenship when it’s not presented. He says it would cost Montana taxpayers between 50 cents and two dollars for every search.

“The state of Montana would be paying the federal government to do its own job, which is enforce immigration laws,” Haque-Hausrath said.

Haque-Hausrath calls the measure an unwanted federal intrusion, a sweeping change from the way the state provides services now, to combat a problem he says isn’t even known to exist.

Speaker Milburn pretty much agrees with that last part, saying “we don’t have a big problem with that in Montana.” But again, he says it’s the principle of the matter. He says LR-121 is Montana’s effort to follow controversial immigration legislation in other states like Arizona and Alabama.

“It’s kind of the theory that there’s strength with the more states that jump on board with something like this,” Milburn said.

This story uses excerpts from my Montana PBS special on the ballot measures, “From the People: Montana’s 2012 Ballot Measures”

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BOTH SIDES: LR 120, requiring parental notification prior to abortion for a minor