montana legalization question

The Montana Supreme Court swiftly dismissed a lawsuit to remove a marijuana legalization proposal from the state’s ballot on November 3.

The legal challenge was filed by an organization called Wrong for Montana (WFM) who claimed the measure violated the state’s constitution since it includes provisions that would appropriate funds. Spokesperson of the group, Steve Zabawa, said Article III, Section IV of Montana’s constitution precludes this as it states citizens “may enact laws by initiative on all matters except appropriations of money and local or special laws.”

Montana’s marijuana legalization ballot measure would establish an adult-use cannabis market in the state, while a separate measure on the ballot would set the minimum age for participation in the legal industry at 21. In a state renowned for natural beauty, Montana’s ballot proposal is quite unique insofar as it contains provisions that would set aside half of the cannabis sales tax revenues for environmental conservation programs.

The Supreme Court did not offer an opinion on the challenge. Instead it rejected the case on the basis that WFM had “wholly failed to establish” why it had brought the challenge to the state’s highest court and not first sought a ruling in a lower court then, if necessary, gone through an appeals process.

Dave Lewis of New Approach Montana (NAM), the group behind the marijuana legalization ballot proposal, suggested WFM didn’t take their case to the lower courts because the goal was to create confusion rather than mount a serious legal challenge.

“At best, this lawsuit was a frivolous longshot,” he said. “At worst, it was an intentional effort to create confusion right before the election.”

The court’s dismissal means the plaintiffs can indeed take their case to the lower courts. Brian Thomson, the plaintiff’s attorney, said they intend to do just that but did not provide a timeframe.

Montana’s Secretary of State confirmed a marijuana legalization question would appear on the ballot back in August after NAM submitted the required number of signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot the month before. Many Montana residents have already cast their votes. In some counties, in-person voting started on October 5 while mail-in ballots were sent out on October 9.

The legal challenge came too late to stop the proposal appearing on the ballot but it’s still possible that a later ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could void the outcome of the vote. NAM’s Lewis, a former Republican state senator, hopes it won’t come to this.

“Our opponents are desperately throwing everything at the wall in the hope that something sticks,” he added. “They’re resorting to fear tactics and misinformation because they know that a majority of Montana voters are ready to vote yes on legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana for adults 21 and over.”

Neighboring Nebraska saw a similar legal challenge to a medical marijuana legalization ballot proposal but the state’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in that case. The court ordered the measure’s removal from the ballot on the basis that it violated the state’s single-subject rule for such initiatives .With Nebraska gone but Montana pulling through, this means five states will vote on marijuana legalization in the November elections.

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