Montana marijuana initiative organizers set eyes on 2016


MISSOULA, Mont. - President Barack Obama says smoking marijuana is not "more dangerous" than consuming alcohol, according to his recent interview with a New Yorker reporter. Obama told the reporter that he thinks marijuana is less dangerous "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer." However, he said "it's not something I encourage, and I've told my daughters I think it's a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy."

He also said that it's important for legalization to go forward in the two states -- Washington and Colorado -- that have passed recreational pot laws.

Some folks who would like to see legalization in their own states see the comments as encouraging. Chris Lindsey, a Missoula-based legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, tells NBC Montana that he's starting to put in some of the groundwork necessary to get a new initiative on the ballot in 2016.

He helped put together an initiative currently approved for signature gathering, which would theoretically end up on the 2014 ballot. However, he says organizers are instead focusing on a more elaborately worded law, rather than gathering signatures right now.

The current initiative would create a constitutional amendment, adding two sentences that would allow adults to purchase, consume, produce and possess marijuana.

Lindsey says organizers will now focus on a brand new law that spells out details, like how the tax structures would work. He says it would likely be similar to Colorado's law.

"We also expect during the 2016 election that we're going to see a lot of younger voters come out, which you typically see in a presidential election, and we think that's going to be very important...We don't want to go out and get a lot of signature gatherers going in an effort that may fall short," said Lindsey.

Not everyone's on board though. Will Deschamps, chair of the Montana Republican Party, tells NBC Montana he supports a state's right to decide, but he has reservations about what a law like Colorado's could do in Montana.

"I saw what happened here in Missoula and in Montana when we legalized [medicinal] marijuana. It kind of got out of control and they had to draw back on it, so we'll wait to see what happens other places but if it happens like it did in Montana they're in for a ride," said Deschamps.

Some critics of the laws also claim that the programs could open the floodgates for the legalization of other drugs, and make marijuana more accessible to children.

However, Lindsey is forging ahead. He expects stakeholders to draft a new proposal around the end of the year, and have it in the hands of the Secretary of State and Attorney Generals' office by next spring.