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Montana pot advocates look to Colorado, Washington

Associated Press Modified: November 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm •  Published: November 11, 2012

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Medical marijuana advocates are looking for a silver lining after being rebuffed by Montana voters, and they think they may have found it over Colorado and Washington.

Rejected at the ballot box in an attempt to overturn a state law that restricts the use and distribution of medical marijuana, Montana organizers are looking to those two states as templates for passing even broader initiatives that would legalize recreational use of the drug.

"In a libertarian state like Montana, we think we have a good shot at being one of the early states in ending the nightmare," said Bob Brigham, the campaign manager for the effort to repeal restrictions on medical marijuana. "The prohibition on marijuana has become indefensible. We're wasting millions of dollars and it's a giant waste of time for everybody."

Colorado and Washington voters on Tuesday passed separate initiatives that remove criminal penalties for adults over 21 with small amounts of the drug. The states plan to tax pot sales, but it would depend on federal authorities who classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

Brigham said Montana advocates are studying the paths those two states took toward legalization and are also considering re-filing a proposed constitutional initiative that missed the filing deadline for signatures for this election.

Placing a constitutional question on the 2014 ballot would require more signatures than a ballot question like those approved by Washington and Colorado voters, but writing marijuana legalization into the Montana Constitution would prevent the Legislature from nullifying it later, Brigham said.

"Although we've had medical marijuana as long as they have, they've never had to worry about the Legislature overturning the will of the voters," he said. "I think without a constitutional amendment to end prohibition, medical marijuana patients will always be at risk."

The will of Montana voters appeared to head in the opposite direction Tuesday. They ratified the law that bans providers of the drug from compensation, limits providers to distributing to a maximum of three patients and requiring additional medical proof to qualify as a medical marijuana user.

Supporters of the law, known as Senate Bill 423, said it brings medical marijuana back from the mega-industry it had become to the small program Montana voters had intended when it was first approved in 2004.

Medical marijuana advocates gathered enough voter signatures to put the new law on the ballot as a legislative referendum and also challenged its constitutionality in court.

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