Montana to vote on medical marijuana

September 23, 2004

Haines Eason, Montana Kaimin

Some people view the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes as a major step toward the drug’s total acceptance, but Missoula resident Robin Prosser deems it vital to her well-being. 

Prosser suffers from a form of lupus, a disease that can cause the body’s defenses to attack the joints, kidneys, blood and skin. She said she uses marijuana to curb the extreme nausea and discomfort caused by her medications. 

In May of this year, no longer able to endure the pain from her illness, she attempted suicide. Responding officers found pot pipes and residue in her apartment while assisting her and charged her with possession of marijuana. 

Prosser’s case will be decided at the polls on Nov. 2, when Montanans vote on Initiative-148. If approved, Montana will be the ninth state to allow unrestricted use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Assuredly, many in Prosser’s situation will be watching intently. 

On Sept. 2, the State of Montana agreed to drop charges against Prosser if after a nine-month probatory period she has no further court appearances. According to Prosser, an arrangement was reached at trial allowing her continued use of medicinal marijuana, as it is part of her physician’s recommended treatment regimen. Asked if this arrangement with the state foreshadows coming changes, Prosser said she was “not sure,” and “couldn’t speak for anyone other than herself.” 

Paul Befumo, organizer and treasurer of the Missoula-based Medical Marijuana Policy Project of Montana, sees the Prosser agreement much more favorably. He and members of MMPPM, the group responsible for I-148, think Prosser’s agreement is a symptom of changing times and that her personal victory is strong evidence that the initiative is “definitely going to be successful,” Befumo said. “This isn’t something prosecutors or law enforcement agencies want to fight over now,” he said. “We just shouldn’t be putting people in jail over the meds they need.” 

That same sentiment is shared by several UM students. Jan Montgomery, a psychology major, said she thinks I-148 should be seriously considered by Montana and many other states. 

“Medicinal marijuana is a good thing to be used for lots and lots of patients that have everything from glaucoma to cancer complications,” Montgomery said. 

However, Jim Macintosh, an addiction counselor of 30 years and owner of Chemical Dependency Services in Kalispell, urged caution. “If we start talking about the [plant] form, we’re fooling ourselves as far as addiction is concerned. If we legalize [that] form, we get into a whole mess of issues outside of pain relief,” he said. “Marijuana itself, most people think, is not harmful, when in fact it is. It destroys white blood cells, may lengthen illnesses, is carcinogenic and encourages use of other drugs.” 

Macintosh cited the pill MARINOL, an FDA-approved synthetic form of the active ingredients in marijuana used to treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. He said that in pill form, the active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, is more effective in dealing directly with a patient’s pain, and avoids the common disorienting side effects associated with smoking. 

Despite the argument, in April the Montana secretary of state and attorney general stated that I-148 held legal water. MMPPM then collected 24,305 signatures, nearly 4,000 more than was needed to make the Nov. 2 ballot. 

According to Befumo, the petition was well received. “There isn’t an organized opposition to this initiative, and I don’t foresee any future difficulties,” Befumo said. 

If passed, I-148 would protect health care providers and terminally or seriously ill people who use or prescribe medical marijuana from arrest and prosecution. Additionally, medical marijuana patients could “grow up to six plants for their private use,” Befumo said. The Montana Department of Health and Human Services would issue ID cards to both patients and healthcare providers, allowing for quick confirmation of an individual’s status. 

According to Befumo, the time leading up to the November ballot will be spent educating Montanans about the benefits of medicinal marijuana for the seriously ill. Befumo and MMPPM will air television and radio spots to advertise the issue. Montana State University will host a debate about the initiative on Oct. 20, Befumo said. He said he thinks it will be well attended.

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