Montana Lawmakers Vote to Repeal Medical Pot; Arizona's Prop 203 Probably Safe From Similar Fate

Montana's State House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly yesterday to repeal that state's 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana initiative

The repeal bill still needs to go before the State Senate -- and faces possible veto by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat. But the vote, even though it fell sharply along party lines, was seen as a minor victory by pot prohibitionists in Arizona and nationwide.

"It's a great sign for those of us who truly believe that marijuana isn't medicine," says Carolyn Short, who helped lead the unsuccessful "No on 203" campaign in Arizona.

Short claims that Arizona's Legislature could repeal Prop 203 or change it, despite the 1998 Voter Protection Act.

Not possible, says Andrew Myers, front man for the group that put Prop 203 on the ballot.

Not only does the Voter Protection Act require a three-quarter majority of lawmakers to mess with a voter-approved initiative, Myers says, but any change must advance -- not water down -- the initiative.

Lawmakers "really have no power here," Myers boasts.

Another factor that can't be ignored by Arizona lawmakers is that the Voter Protection Act was ratified by voters after lawmakers in 1996 messed with a voter-approved medical pot measure. The upshot for marijuana supporters is that Prop 203 is probably radioactive, from a political point of view.

Speaking of politics, the vote in Montana was nothing but. Only one Democrat voted for the repeal.

And get a load of the socially conservative, propaganda-like rhetoric:

Montana House Speaker Mike Milburn calls the spread of marijuana in the state a "totally uncontrolled epidemic" and a scourge, according to an article in the Montana Missoulian. Milburn also passes along a highly suspicious rumor from an unnamed school principal that legalized medical pot has led to children "prostituting their own selves to gain access to drugs."

Utter hogwash, if you ask us.

Still, such sentiments show that the future of Prop 203 is far from assured. As observers know, the vote was a close one.

"Of course" marijuana opponents will try to put a repeal of Prop 203 on the ballot in 2012 if the law remains intact by then, Short says.

No new political committee has been formed; Short says it's still "unclear" whether lawmakers would -- or could -- try to tinker with Prop 203.

"We're still trying to figure out how to negate the impact of this law, or to get rid of it all together," she says.

As Montana's experience shows, the skies could be turbulent for Arizona's burgeoning medical pot industry.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern