Montana Cannabis Activists Sue State Over Risks of Collecting In-Person Signatures
Advocacy groups around the country are asking their states to allow electronic signature collection during the quarantine, but Montana activists are trying to force the state's hand in court.
Published on April 15, 2020

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and associated quarantine measures have all but killed multiple drug reform campaigns this year. But cannabis activists in Montana are fighting to keep their adult-use legalization campaign alive.

New Approach Montana was in the process of collecting signatures for two ballot measures when COVID-19 quarantine measures stopped them in their tracks. Due to unique Montana state laws, the group needed to create two separate ballot initiatives: a statutory measure that would legalize adult-use cannabis, and a constitutional amendment that would prohibit anyone younger than 21 from using or buying weed.

In order for both measures to be included on the state ballot, the group would need to collect 25,468 signatures for the statutory legalization measure and 50,936 signatures for the constitutional amendment by June 19th. But door-to-door signature collection is now prohibited under social distancing rules, making it highly unlikely that advocates could meet these thresholds by the deadline.

“The impact of the coronavirus means that we cannot safely or responsibly conduct a signature drive in Montana at this time. Circulating petitions and interacting with voters would make the current public health situation even worse,” said campaign manager Ted Dick to Marijuana Moment. “However, ballot initiatives are a constitutional right for the people of Montana and we believe it is imperative that democratic processes are maintained even as we combat the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore we are taking legal action that proposes a pragmatic solution to a problem that we should not ignore.”

New Approach Montana and former state Senator Dave Lewis sued the state, arguing that failing to allow electronic signature collection would violate the “constitutional rights of Plaintiffs and the people of Montana to amend the constitution and enact laws by initiative, as well as the rights of Plaintiffs and the people of Montana under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”

The lawsuit argues that an existing state law known as the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act already creates a legal basis allowing the secretary of state to accept electronic signatures for ballot initiatives. The advocacy group explains they already launched a partnership with digital signature company DocuSign, which gives them the opportunity to securely transmit signatures for their ballot initiatives.

“As a former state Budget Director and member of the Montana Legislature, I have spent nearly fifty years struggling with how to develop more jobs in Montana,” Lewis told Marijuana Moment. “And as I recently researched the cannabis industry in Colorado and Canada, I was amazed at the number of jobs that have been developed. Montana needs those jobs.”

Activists in Arizona also petitioned their own state’s Supreme Court to allow them to collect signatures online and submit them using an existing electronic system. In California, drug reform advocates are begging election officials to accept electronic signatures, but have not taken any legal action against the state. Oregon campaigns to legalize medical psilocybin for therapists and decriminalize all drug possession are also asking officials to allow electronic signature collection.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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