The Medical Marijuana Wars have heated up in Montana. There are three competing visions. First, an outright prohibition. Steve Zabawa is the man behind I-176, a failed ballot measure that would have made cannabis fully illegal in Montana with no exceptions, even for people suffering end-stage cancer. He has spent over $200,000 of his own money to make it happen (Zabawa owns a Mercedes dealership in Billings). But he failed to gather enough signatures to get his measure onto the ballot and so he is now making a last ditch effort to claim that the Kalispell elections office misplaced thousands of signature petition sheets.
Why would a person waste his time and money on this effort at a time when cancer patients and others with serious disease are finding new hope for pain management with medical cannabis? The answer probably won’t surprise you. On his website, Zabawa suggests that the cancer patients should instead find “other ways to cope, such as going to work, physical exercise, hobbies, or praying.”
Zabawa has also written that in high school and college he “believed illegal drugs were harmless and a great way to party.” But now that he’s done his share, he says they ruin the lives of others, and so he’s changed his mind. In his writings, he treats medical marijuana no differently than heroin, meth or crack. In fact the logo on his Safe Montana website seems even to imply that alcohol should also be made illegal.
And as with most right-wingers, the hypocrisy is always right around the corner. Zabawa once tried to profit from a medical marijuana scheme. A medical grower in Billings sought to rent out premises owned by Zabawa, but according to the Billings Gazette the deal fell apart when Zabawa demanded that he receive 10% of all proceeds from sales of weed.
The second vision is embodied in a 2011 law that gutted a citizen initiative that had authorized medical cannabis. That law limits providers to only three patients apiece, and would thus put out of business most medical growers and make it impossible for patients to get medical marijuana. That law, after being suspended amid years of legal challenges, is scheduled to finally go into effect at the end of August, according to a recent court order.
The third vision, the one everyone should support, would restore rationality to what we have on the ground now, a well-regulated medical industry in which growers can keep themselves in business and patients can obtain what they need. A ballot measure, I-182, has qualified for the ballot in 2016 that will enshrine this regime.
Two interesting questions. First, what happens in the unlikely event that both the pro and anti ballot measures are voted up? Answer: A court might make a ruling but probably the legislature would end up having to resolve it. That’s what Zabawa is hoping for, for the last time the legislature took up this issue it created the horrible 2011 law which is about to go into effect. That effort was led by Sen. Jeff Essmann and other religious conservatives, of which Zabawa is one (he is an active member of the Mormon church where doctrine requires adherents to eschew not only drugs, but alcohol and even stimulants such as caffeine as well. Not all Mormons follow these rules. Whether Zabawa does is unknown).
Second question: why shouldn’t the implementation date for the 2011 law be pushed back to December or January so that the voters can decide the issue once and for all? Might not the the 2011 law be mooted by passage of one of the ballot measure? This question is being litigated in state court as we speak. The I-182 proponents, led by Kate Cholewa the longtime pro-cannabis activist and lobbyist, are asking a judge to delay implementation of the 2011 law until after the election. The Attorney General’s office is fighting against it, seeking to have the 2011 law go into effect at the end of August. Tim Fox has gotten some heat for it. Two weeks ago the prominent Helena citizen Bob Ream, who is suffering from pancreatic cancer, wrote a public letter to Fox explaining that that he’s found it to be be very helpful while he undergoes treatment. He called on Fox to allow voters to decide the issue in November. The Cowgirl Blog strongly agrees with Ream. Fox should tell the judge that he agrees with a January effective date for the stupidity-packed 2011 law.
The voters decided in 2004, by an overwhelming majority, that cannabis should be legal as medicine. Twelve years later, voters are being forced to repeat themselves.