Senate Backs Repeal of 2004 Medical Marijuana Law

Posted on March 31, 2011

0


By CODY BLOOMSBURG

HELENA — The Senate voted Thursday to repeal Montana’s voter-approved medical marijuana law, following an emotional debate colored by partisan finger-pointing.

The 29-21 vote was the latest episode in the ongoing saga to fix an act that many lawmakers say began with the intention of comforting the dying but has led to drug trafficking and the corruption of Montana’s youth.

Bitterness over a successful Democratic move Wednesday to stall a GOP bill to reform the state’s current law spilled over into Thursday. Republicans accused Democrats of forcing a repeal-or-nothing situation in an attempt to broker a deal for GOP votes on an unrelated bill.

Republicans said they refused to swap votes on a $97-million bonding bill for new state buildings in exchange for Democratic votes on a procedural motion that would have sent the reform bill to the House, despite its missing a key deadline.

The reform measure, Senate Bill 423, appears to be the last chance for reform this session. It passed over to the House today with many Democrats voting for it. But the Democrats’ move makes it much easier for the House to kill that measure.

House leaders have said they favor outright repeal over any other solution, and now SB 423 needs a difficult two-thirds vote in the House to be considered. The repeal bill, House Bill 161, is sponsored by House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade.

Tempers were still running hot when the repeal bill hit the Senate floor on Thursday. But the emotion was most evident in the long silence as Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, stood with his microphone in hand, trying to find his words explain his decision to vote for repeal after having opposed it.

Vincent was one of the two Republicans who had voted recently to keep the repeal bill bottled up in committee so he and two other senators could draft the reform measure.

“Talk about political suicide, for crying out loud,” he said. “My county didn’t even vote for medical marijuana. It went down in my county. I’m in the minority in my caucus, and I’m going against my base for what I believe to be a principled decision.”

He said that while he continues to believe that marijuana can help some patients, abuse of the current law is too dangerous to the state.

Democrats said sick people from across Montana have pleaded with lawmakers via e-mail not to take away a drug that helps them. Repeal only punishes those who need that help, they said.

“What they are begging of us is to be allowed to live because this herb has helped them,” said Sen. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula.

But most Republicans held fast to their contention that repeal was the lesser of two evils.

“A lot of them are using medicine, Sen. Erickson,” said Sen. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman. “But a lot of them are just smoking pot.”

The repeal bill will be up for a final Senate vote Friday. After that, the  fate of the medical marijuana law will rest with the House, and perhaps, ultimately, with Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

– Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at crbloomsburg@hotmail.com

Posted in: Daily Grind