CI-110 was approved for signature gathering this week, and the campaign to place the measure on the 2012 ballot will begin in January. A ballot issue committee has been formed, Montana First, to coordinate the campaign. This is an important effort that deserves attention and support.
A review of the status quo:
Selling (or giving away) any amount of marijuana in Montana could result in a sentence of life in prison (MCA 45-9-101). By the letter of the law (MCA 45-9-102), a one-gram bust can earn you six months in the county jail, or up to a year for a second offense. Possession of three ounces can land you in state prison for up to five years. In Missoula County alone, a bust for a small amount of marijuana occurs just about every day.
The Montana experience of medical marijuana over the past two years has been tumultuous and controversial. Traveling mass clinics and what seemed to some to be a “pot shop” on every other corner led to public outcry and skepticism. The legislature responded by repealing medical marijuana and replacing it with an onerous new program. Thousands of people and many businesses have since dropped out of the program and presumably returned to the black market.
Meanwhile, the prohibition machine, with its taxpayer-funded drug task forces, confidential informants, asset forfeiture seizures, drug testing and treatment industries, private prisons, unregulated black market production and distribution networks, and the arrests of thousands of Montanans with a few grams of cannabis in their pocket, has continued its expensive, destructive, and ineffective work.
The Solution: CI-110
CI-110 is a constitutional initiative. In other words, it’s a proposal submitted to the citizens of Montana which, if it passes, will change the Montana constitution.
CI-110 would alter Article II, Section 14, titled “Adult Rights”, which currently reads:
Section 14. Adult rights. A person 18 years of age or older is an adult for all purposes, except that the legislature or the people by initiative may establish the legal age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing alcoholic beverages.
If CI-110 passes, this section would be changed as follows (new text underlined):
Section 14. Adult rights. A person 18 years of age or older is an adult for all purposes, except that the legislature or the people by initiative may establish the legal age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing alcoholic beverages, and marijuana. Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce, and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations, and taxation. Except for actions that endanger minors, children, or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of this state shall apply to such activities.
The changes would become effective on July 1st, 2013.
The 2013 legislature would be unable to amend or repeal the change. However, with a two-thirds vote, they could refer the amendment back to the people to vote again in 2014.
The legislature (many of whom we’ll have the opportunity to elect in 2012) may choose to develop new laws which implement the “reasonable limitations, regulations, and taxation”. They may also choose to repeal the current prohibition laws. Or they may do nothing (whether due to inaction or gridlock).
The federal government may pressure state leaders to not create any sort of regulatory infrastructure. If our legislators bow to that pressure, there will be no defined limits or rules aside from what’s implied in the measure itself.
On the other hand, the legislature may craft a regulatory system for legal marijuana, possibly including personal possession and plant limits (or garden sizes, a more reasonable measure of production capacity), licensing, taxes, and so forth. What they come up with is anyone’s guess, but we’ll all have a chance to assist in the process, if we get involved. This makes it especially important to elect legislators who are willing to work with us.
If the marijuana prohibition laws stay on the books, then it’s possible that state law enforcement officials may still conduct marijuana arrests, despite CI-110. If that happens, it’s possible that judges will throw marijuana cases out at first appearance, and the law enforcement agencies may face liability for wrongful arrest and/or due process.
Medical marijuana will still be on the books (either some form of SB 423, or I-148, if the people so choose). However, any adult will have a constitutional right to grow their own cannabis garden, and/or buy cannabis from another adult.
None of this protects Montanans from federal law enforcement agents. However, ending state prohibition of marijuana sends a powerful message to federal authorities that Montanans will no longer participate in their war on people who choose cannabis. This is an important step in the process.
How You Can Help
To put CI-110 on the ballot, signatures must be obtained from 10 percent of the total number of qualified voters in Montana, including 10 percent of the voters in each of 40 legislative house districts (a total of 48,674 valid signatures for the 2012 ballot). They must be collected, submitted, and validated prior to June 22nd, 2012.
That’s a lot of signatures, twice as many as the recent referendum campaign needed. This will require an army of volunteers and professional management. In the fall, there will need to be a voter education campaign in the media to defuse criticisms and get out the vote. This campaign will require substantial donations of time and money to succeed.
Montana NORML has committed $1000 to help Montana First kick things off, and will continue to offer financial help as we’re able.
Whether an adult uses marijuana as serious medicine, herbal preventative, social relaxant, or spiritual sacrament, such use should be of no concern to government authorities, absent harm to others. CI-110 will enshrine that principle as a constitutional right, and end marijuana prohibition in Montana.