Marijuana grows in the home of two medical marijuana patients in Medford, Oregon, in 2011.

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Montanans have been voting on initiatives about the medical use of marijuana since 2004, and this year will be no different.

I-182 would reverse recent restrictions that limited medical marijuana providers to just three patients, restrictions that all but eliminating access for more than 12,000 Montanans who have state permission to use the substance.

But the initiative faces intense opposition from a group called Safe Montana that failed to get its own initiative on the ballot. Safe Montana was pushing I-176, which would have banned all legal use of marijuana in the state. After the secretary of state rejected the initiative because of problematic signatures, the group refocused on stopping I-182.

Supporters of expanding medical marijuana access gathered more than 24,000 signatures in 58 days to put I-182 on the ballot. Its supporters want to reverse the series of legislative and legal actions that they say have made it impossible for medical marijuana providers to run viable businesses.

Jeff Krauss

Jeff Krauss poses outside Bozeman City Hall in this 2015 file photo.

“I just don’t think there are that many Good Samaritans out there,” said Jeff Krauss, treasurer for Montana Citizens for I-182 and a Bozeman city commissioner. “It’s really saying cancer patients or MS sufferers have to learn to grow medical marijuana and research what plants help which diseases most. It’s really a return to prohibition.”

The restrictions, Krauss said, made criminals out of 12,000 sick people.

Krauss said I-182 would lift those bans, but would also require providers to obtain licenses and submit to unannounced, yearly inspections. It would allow for product testing to ensure safety, consistency and accurate dosing. The proposal would also allow sales of medical marijuana to veterans and other patients diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We’re not just rolling back to the laws we had before,” Krauss said. “It’s an improved law.”

Katie Mazurek, a 33-year-old Bozeman attorney who is battling breast cancer, said she is looking forward to voting for I-182 in November. For Mazurek, medical marijuana seems like the safer option when compared with the large amounts of addictive pain pills she is prescribed.

Cancer Patients in Favor of Medical Marijuana

Cancer patient Katie Mazurek describes her symptoms from treating her breast cancer during a press conference at the Cancer Support Community center in Bozeman on March 24, 2016.

“Chemotherapy takes such a physical and mental toll on me,” Mazurek said. “Some days are hard and medical marijuana helps me to deal with the side effects of the chemo.”

Krauss said he and other I-182 supporters are just spreading the word about the initiative through rallies and letters of support. Krauss said he’s hoping to see Missoula, Helena, Bozeman, Great Falls, Butte and Billings lead the way in support of I-182.

Yet billboards opposing I-182, paid for by Safe Montana, have popped up across the state. Krauss doesn’t like it.

“After I-176 failed to qualify, they spent money to sue and tried to get back on the ballot,” Krauss said. “What they have done instead, is form a ballot committee to oppose I-182. We’ve filed complaint because they’re using the same ballot committee that supported I-176 and using it to attack I-182.”

Krauss said it should be illegal to use one committee for multiple purposes.

Steve Zabawa speaks in Bozeman

Safe Montana founder Steve Zabawa explains his opposition to a 2016 ballot measure that would relax legislative restrictions on medical marijuana during an event at the Emerson Center in Bozeman on Sept. 26.

Steve Zabawa, director of Safe Montana, said the complaints that have been filed against his group are “frivolous and silly.”

While he said it’s true that the same ballot committee working against I-182 was the same group supporting I-176, Zabawa said he and the committee sought out approval for doing so in July.

Zabawa also said although Safe Montana is anti-recreational marijuana, it is a pro-medical marijuana organization that wants the legislation done differently than I-182 supporters.

“We want medical marijuana laws modeled under a normal medical situation where it’s prescribed by doctor with warning labels about the side effects,” Zabawa said. “We want simple things like regular testing of marijuana so everyone knows what he or she is getting.”

Zabawa said under I-182, medical marijuana patients won’t need a doctor, there will be no monitoring nor collecting of data and it won’t allow unannounced police visits.

He said the last thing he wants is for Montana to end up like Washington or Colorado, where he said “18-year-olds are reaching their hands into jars and telling you about the marijuana’s fragrance.”

This year’s initiative puts Montana on the same road as those other states, Zawaba said. Instead he wants voters to reject expanding the old law and instead build a new medical marijuana program run by pharmacists and doctors, who only prescribe marijuana to people with clear illnesses.

“I don’t think anyone has ever been turned down for a green card,” Zabawa said. “If you can fog a mirror, you can get a green card.”

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