On Wednesday, Oct. 21, the Montana Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit against a marijuana legalization initiative appearing on the state’s November ballot. Sponsored by the New Montana approach, the initiative would establish a legal cannabis market for adults in the state. But as the elections drew closer, the initiative was challenged by Wrong for Montana, an organization arguing that, because the initiative involves appropriating funds, it violates state statute on citizen initiatives.
“We have prepared this lawsuit, and we are in the process of filing it,” said Steve Zabawa of Wrong for Montana (WFM). He cited article III, section IV of Montana’s constitution, which says that citizens “may enact laws by initiative on all matters except appropriations of money and local or special laws.” If the legalization initiative was passed, half of the public revenue collected from marijuana sales would go towards environmental conservation programs.
Although the court didn’t state whether or not the challenge was valid, it said that the group behind the lawsuit did not demonstrate “urgency or emergency factors” that would justify moving the case into its jurisdiction instead of going through trials and appeals courts first. “We express no opinion on the merits of WFM’s constitutional challenge, nor its rights to pursue this challenge in district court,” the court justices wrote.
“However, WFM’s claim does not present an appropriate basis on which to invoke this Court’s original jurisdiction,” the justices continued. “Even if it did, WFM has wholly failed to establish that urgency or emergency factors make litigation in the trial courts and the normal appeal process inadequate.” The court has left the door open for Wrong for Montana to take its challenge through the traditional process.
According to Brian Thompson, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, the plaintiffs intend to file the suit in a district court “soon.” The initiative in question is on the ballot, and voting has already started. If the lawsuit had been successful, the votes simply wouldn’t have counted or the initiative would not have been implemented.
“This was an easy decision for the Montana Supreme Court,” says Dave Lewis, policy advisor to the pro-legalization New Approach. “At best, this lawsuit was a frivolous long shot. At worst, it was an intentional effort to create confusion right before the election. Lewis, who is a former Republican state senator and former budget director for three Montana governors, says the initiative has been receiving strong support from voters across the state.
“Instead of making a coherent argument against the initiative, our opponents tried to deprive Montanans of their constitutional right to a citizen initiative process,” Lewis continued. “Our opponents are desperately throwing everything at the wall in the hope that something sticks.”
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