Locals petitioning to send marijuana question to November county ballot
Locals are attempting to gather enough signatures to send the question of whether marijuana should be legal within Cascade County to the November ballot.
Earlier this year, residents asked County Commissioners to send the question to the ballot, but based on advice from the county attorney’s office, determined that a citizen petition was necessary to do so.
In late May, the group asking for the petition submitted the draft language to the county elections office and that staff forwarded the information to the county attorney’s office for review and approval.
The county’s office approved the petition on June 24.
“The County Attorney’s Office utilized its statutory timeframe to review the petition for compliance with state law as well as prepare the required ballot statement and statements regarding of the implication of a vote for and against the ballot issue,” Carey Ann Haight, deputy county attorney, told The Electric about the month to review and approve the petition.
Typically, signature gatherers get 90 days and the county elections office gets for weeks to process the signatures. But due to the late submittal and approval, that hasn’t left much time for the process.
The county elections office has to get information to the Montana Secretary of State when their office certifies the ballots on Aug. 25.
The county attorney’s office gave the petitioners until 5 p.m. Aug. 24 to collect signatures.
That leaves the county elections office no time to certify the signatures, according to officials.
Under the legal requirements, the petitioners need to gather about 8,000 valid signatures.
They’ve been asked by the elections office to submit the signatures they gather as they go to speed the verification process since the elections office can only process about 500 signatures a day.
As of July 11, the elections office had not received any signature sheets.
Rina Moore, the county elections official, said that in 2020 when marijuana was on the ballot, the petitioners collected 6,320 signatures in the county. After processing, only 3,355 were accepted and 2,965 were rejected, according to the elections office.
The signatures have to be from registered voters and the signatures have to be legible, according to the elections office.
Haight told The Electric that the petition organizers “have been repeatedly advised it imperative that they regularly and periodically submitted to the elections office so that the petition signatures can be verified as much in advance of the cutoff timeline as possible. Early submittal allows the elections office more time to process signatures, which must be verified, and also provides the organizers with sufficient time to follow upon any errors with the signatures or with the gathering of signatures.”
Cascade County voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana in 2020 with 54.73 percent voting in favor and 45.27 percent against. By the numbers, 21,747 voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and 17,986 voted against the measure, according the Montana Secretary of State records.
Earlier this year, commissioners updated the zoning regulations to allow recreational marijuana operations only in heavy industrial areas, where medical marijuana dispensaries were already allowed in Cascade County.
The county attorney’s opinion states that for the recreational marijuana question to go on the November ballot, it would require locals to use the petition process that requires collecting signatures of eligible voters.
Yellowstone County Commissioners voted to send the question back to the voters on the June 7 ballot without a petition after the City of Billings sent the question to the ballot in November 2021 and voters decided to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana within the city limits.
In their opinion, the county attorney’s office stated that they disagree with Yellowstone County’s legal opinion on the matter.
Yellowstone County residents voted to keep recreational marijuana legal on the June 7 ballot.
In their opinion, the attorney’s write that they also spoke with the county attorney in Granite County who agreed with their interpretation that a petition is required to send the question back to the ballot. The petition process was done in Granite County and the commissioners are sending it to the June ballot, according to the opinion.
Granite County voters flipped and chose to prohibit recreational marijuana sales on the June 7 ballot.
The Great Falls City Commission did vote to send the question of whether recreational marijuana operations should be allowed in the city limits to the November ballot.
In their opinion, the county attorneys state that the city has greater self-governing powers than the county.
The city currently prohibits all marijuana operations within the city limits under its land development code by prohibiting anything that is federally illegal, such as marijuana.