Blowing Smoke: Montana Legislators Campaign Promises vs Actual Legislative Agenda


Today is the opening day of Montana’s 90 day biennial legislative session.   Legislators continue to talk tough about the governor’s structurally unbalanced budget, opting out of national health care reform mandates, eliminating expansion of the size and scope government, job creation and other issues important to Montanans.  As always, however; there seems to be a great divide between what the legislators SAY and what they DO.  One such prime example is the emphasis the legislature is placing on repealing or reforming Initiative 148- Montana’s medical marijuana law passed by 64% of Montanans in 2004.  Currently, there are approximately 27,000 Montana medical marijuana patients as well as 5000 caregivers.  The economic impact, although unintended; is staggering.
Despite:
  • Recent Gallup polls indicating 58% of Americans in western states favor the full legalization of the use of marijuana  (48% of Americans overall)
  • The December Missoula  “marijuana mutiny” trial where prosecutors were unable to seat a jury after one by one, prospective jurors expressed their unwillingness to convict on possession of a small amount of marijuana.  The case received national attention from the Wall Street Journal’s legal blog to the Huffington Post and many Montanans were outraged at the expense of trying a man for possession of two buds of marijuana.
  • Recent quotes by Montana Republican legislators: “I do believe that moral issues are a very important part of politics and our society … and they’re personally important to me, also,” Speaker of the House Mike Milburn said. “But the focus of this session and the focus of Montana right now has to do with the economy and getting people back to work.”  Oddly enough, Mike Milburn has been actively working to repeal the medical marijuana law.
  • Recent quotes from Montana Democrat legislators:  ““We’ve got to concentrate on the things that matter and not be distracted by these proposals from the past,” added incoming House Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte. “Unless the proposal can show us that it is going to directly improve the lot of Montanans out of work, or those who are under-employed, we’re going to resist it.”

Montana legislators, primarily Republicans who campaigned on pro-business, pro-jobs, and anti-big government platforms; are proposing a host of bills ranging from fully repealing the law to regulating the industry to death.  Considering that most Republicans have criticized Obamacare, complaining that  the government has no right to step into the relationship between a physician and patient, it seems very odd that Senator Jeff Essmann would draft a bill proposing a 3 physician panel to determine if a patient does indeed have chronic pain.  Apparently he knows more about legitimate medical conditions than a trained physician.  I wonder how Essmann, an attorney, would feel about a doctor proposing laws to oversee his representation of clients.

Democrats too are in on the game.  Gov. Brian Schweitzer said he’s “absolutely convinced” a large number of Montanans with medical marijuana cards don’t have legitimate medical needs and just want to smoke marijuana “quasi-legally.”

“What we need to do is create a system so that we have people who actually have a medical need for marijuana,” he said in an interview with the Billings Gazette. “There will be a bill that will make it to my desk that is going to sort of close the loopholes in this medical marijuana. It needs to be done. I think currently the law is, ‘smoke ’em if you got ’em.’ ”

As I’ve said before, Republicans in Montana were handed majorities in both houses on a silver platter- not because they were Republicans but because they were NOT Democrats.  The victories were not mandates and the Republicans should not be spending political capital they did not earn.  Balance the budget, create some jobs, allow Montana to opt out of Obamacare….. then the capital will be earned.  Proposing unnecessary social reforms in a time of fiscal crisis will ensure not only a loss of Republican majorities but potentially a loss of the governor seat as well in 2012.   Stop trying to legislate morality.  Nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose in the history of time.  Focus on what matters to Montana, drugs are at the bottom of the list according to the Montana Chamber of Commerce Power Base survey, voter ID interviews, and overwhelming public sentiment.

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