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Montana Could Legalize Pot Dispensaries This Election

By David Downs on June 7, 2016

Licensed medical cannabis dispensaries may be coming to the ailing patients of Montana. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association told Cannabis Now Monday that it was set to collect enough signatures to put dispensary licensing on the ballot, and professional polling shows it will pass.

With presidential primaries across America, “[Today] is a big day for us, and we’re hoping to collect several thousand signatures,” said MCIA director Kate Cholewa.

The MCIA has collected 30,000 of the 36,000 raw signatures it intends to turn in to state elections officials. Over the last 60 days, professional signature gatherers paid by Montana patients have quickly filled petitions in the sparsely populated state, she said.

“We are in the home stretch and we’re definitely on schedule and hoping to get final 6,000 in the next 10 days.”

Montanans legalized medical cannabis back in 2004, and the industry rapidly expanded until 2011, when a series of laws and court decisions dramatically scaled back patient access in Montana. A state Supreme Court ruling this year found Montana law does not explicitly legalize dispensaries. The outlets have until Fall to close, judges said. But the MCIA is hoping an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court can keep outlets open until voters explicitly legalize dispensaries at the ballot box. The MCIA hired a professional polling firm in Colorado to check voter sentiment in Montana — and found a super-majority supports dispensary access, Cholewa said.

“It’s in the high 60s,” she said. “People want their loved ones and neighbors and families to have access to medical marijuana.”

The private poll mirrors national polls which find support for medical marijuana climbing into the 70s and 80s. Nationally, 54 percent of Americans support ending pot prohibition entirely. In May, Montana’s biggest provider of medical cannabis the Montana Buds franchise, suffered a raid by a joint federal and local task force at their Four Corners outlet. The raid has not intimidated activists, she said.

“Everybody knows an initiative such as ours helps keep that kind of thing from happening,” she said.

In other news, an initiative to remove medical marijuana access entirely in Montana is being circulated by opponents of the medicine. That group also says it has 30,000 signatures collected, but they have been working at it for eight months.

“We don’t think there is equal support for these measures,” said Cholewa.

The deadline for signature gathering for this election cycle in Montana is rapidly closing, though.

“We’ll find out July 18 who has made it and who hasn’t.”

Do you think Montana voters will protect access to dispensaries this year?