Last Update: September 23, 2014

Misguided effort to perpetuate failed marijuana policies falls flat in Big Sky Country

When he’s not trying to profit from medical marijuana businesses, Billings used car dealer Steve Zabawa claims he wants them outlawed. Mr. Zabawa’s effort to obtain enough signatures to prohibit Montana from passing laws that run counter to federal policy fell far short this year, but he has vowed to get the Montana Legislature to place the matter on the ballot in 2016.

Unfortunately, the Montana Legislature has a history of ignoring the will of the people when it comes to marijuana laws. In 2011, the legislature gutted the state’s voter-enacted law, replacing it with a law designed to eliminate any practical chance for providers to make a needed medicine available to patients. A lawsuit filed in 2012 continues to keep the state medical marijuana program minimally functional.

But there are encouraging signs. Sen. John Walsh offered an amendment to a Senate appropriations bill in Washington, D.C. that would prevent the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) from targeting state-legal medical marijuana patients for possessing firearms.

Meanwhile, a more sensible statewide marijuana policy is on the horizon. The Marijuana Policy Project plans to partially fund a voter initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults in 2016 if local supporters and groups raise a substantial portion of the cost.

Unscientific driving law in effect

An ill-conceived and unscientific DUI law went into effect October 1, 2013. The new law makes it a crime for a driver to have five or more nanograms per milliliter of THC (ng/mL) in his or her bloodstream, whether or not the person is actually impaired. Without a doubt, people should not drive while impaired. However, medical marijuana patients may have that level of THC in their blood long after any impairment has worn off. This law is bad for medical marijuana patients because it does not reflect on their ability to drive safely. Tell your representative and senator to repeal this unfair law here.

Montana’s marijuana laws; efforts to change them

In Montana, possession of even a single joint for non-medical purposes can land you in jail for six months, while possession of 60 grams or more (a little over two ounces) can result in a sentence of up to five years. These stiff marijuana penalties cause related negative consequences.

In 2012, there were 1,502 arrests for marijuana-related offenses, 95% of which were for possession. The number of marijuana arrests more than tripled since 2003. At the same time, law enforcement was unable to solve 91% of all burglaries — including home invasions — and over 85% of all motor vehicle thefts. Instead of arresting adults for possession of a product that is safer than alcohol, law enforcement should focus its limited resources on going after real criminals. It's past time for a better solution.

If you believe that Montana law enforcement dollars could be better spent going after real criminals, write your legislators and urge them to support legislation reducing marijuana possession penalties. Or, ask them to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and to regulate it like alcohol.

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