Montana activists are turning in more than 130,000 signatures on Friday to qualify a pair of legalization initiatives for the November ballot.
While the coronavirus pandemic took a major hit on the New Approach Montana campaign, forcing a temporary suspension of signature gathering during critical months, they relaunched the process in recent weeks and submitted their final petitions batch on the deadline day.
The first measure, a statutory change, would establish a regulated cannabis market for adult use in the state. Activists needed to collect about 25,000 valid signatures in order to qualify, and they said they turned in about 52,000 raw submissions.
A separate constitutional amendment the group backed stipulates that only those 21 and older can participate in the market. The signature requirement for that measure is about 51,000—and the campaign submitted about 80,000.
“We’ve overcome a global pandemic, wildfires, floods, hail, snow, and hurricane force winds,” Pepper Petersen, spokesperson for New Approach Montana, said in a press release. “Our campaign implemented strict health protocols and worked around the clock so that Montana voters could sign our petitions safely and qualify these popular initiatives for the November ballot. We collected signatures from every corner of the state and all 100 state house districts.”
“The reason we were able to complete our signature drive in a shortened period of time and in spite of inclement weather is the strong support among Montanans for legalizing marijuana for adults,” he said. “We can generate tens of millions of dollars of new tax revenue, create thousands of new jobs, and provide a new source of commercial activity for Montana’s existing small businesses.”
If there ultimately aren’t enough valid signatures for the latter initiative, that could create political ramifications. Without the passage of the constitutional measure specifying the 21-year-old age requirement, adults 18 and older would be able to access cannabis shops—a situation unlike any other state legalization program in the country. That could potentially provide opponents a potent attack against ending prohibition in the state this year.
“This was the most innovative signature drive I’ve ever seen,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director at the Marijuana Policy Project, which helped coordinate the effort, told Marijuana Moment. “The campaign used mailings, online ads, phone calls, and texting. Signature gatherers travelled all across the state collecting signatures every day while strictly adhering to internal health protocols.”
As activists pushed to gather signatures in the final days, cannabis legalization was formally endorsed by the Montana Democratic party as part of its platform.
Here’s a status update on other drug policy reform campaigns across the country:
Nebraska activists are approaching a deadline next month to submit signatures for a proposed medical cannabis initiative.
In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort asked the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow people to sign cannabis petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office. That request was denied, but advocates are still optimistic about the chances of making the ballot.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota activists said they plan to continue campaign activities for a marijuana legalization initiative, but it’s more likely that they will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.
Idaho medical cannabis activists announced that they are suspending their ballot campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Oregon advocates behind separate measures to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes and to decriminalize drugs and invest in substance misuse treatment both recently submitted signatures.
Washington, D.C. activists behind a psychedelics decriminalization campaign are more confident that they will be able to make the ballot after the District Council voted in favor of a series of changes to signature gathering protocol last month.