HELENA — A group seeking to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot in Montana says it will now move forward with a traditional signature-gathering drive to qualify its two proposed initiatives.
New Approach Montana leaders announced Thursday that the committee would have petition circulators out in several cities starting Saturday.
“As our state reopens for business, we must also reopen for democracy,” said Pepper Petersen, New Approach’s political director, in a statement. “Our signature drive will allow Montana voters to exercise their constitutional right to a ballot initiative in a safe and responsible way.”
New Approach filed a lawsuit last month against the state of Montana, asking for the authority to collect signatures electronically and for the deadline to submit signatures to be moved back from June 19 to Aug. 3. Leaders argued that, in light of the COVID-19 emergency, it would be “neither ethical nor permitted” to gather the needed signatures in person. A district court judge rejected their motion last week.
New Approach leaders say they have sought to follow the state’s public health guidelines throughout this process. Since Gov. Steve Bullock has lifted the statewide stay-at-home order and loosened other restrictions, they say it is now feasible to return to an in-person process – with some adjustments.
“Things are very different today than they were when we filed our suit,” said Petersen.
Petersen said New Approach is training circulators in a series of protocols to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus during the signature drive. Circulators will wear masks and stay six feet away from members of the public. They will provide anyone signing the petitions with disposable gloves and a wrapped, single-use pen.
“Our team has taken a very conservative and cautious approach, and this is going to be the most public health-focused signature drive ever conducted in Montana,” Petersen said.
New Approach is trying to qualify two linked initiatives for the ballot. Initiative 190 would establish a framework for a recreational marijuana system, including a 20% tax on sales. Constitutional Initiative 118 would amend the Montana Constitution, allowing the state to make 21 the minimum age to buy or possess marijuana – instead of 18.
In order to get onto the ballot, I-190 must receive at least 25,468 signatures from registered voters around Montana. CI-118, as a constitutional amendment, must get at least 50,936.