Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Medical Marijuana reform in jeopardy

medmjAs I write this the Senate is debating the sole remaining medical marijuana reform bill, Senate Bill 423 by Sen. Jess Essmann, R-Billings.

Please indulge me as I prognosticate about the future of reform…

Due to a procedural snafu the Senate didn’t vote on the bill by Tuesday’s deadline because they didn’t have a fiscal note that outlined the estimated cost of the bill.

The fiscal note was delivered today, and now the Senate will have to suspend rules in order to pass the bill on to the House. Suspension of the rules requires an affirmative vote by a two-thirds majority. Democrats have the votes to block suspension of the rules, but I don’t think that will happen. More on that later…

Senate President Jim Peterson told the Senate GOP caucus this morning that even if they don’t have the votes to suspend the rules, the Senate can still move forward and pass the bill under normal procedures. However, if that happens the House would have to suspend its rules in order to accept the bill.

But I don’t think it’ll come to that. Sources close to the debate tell me that Gov. Brian Schweitzer wants a medical marijuana reform bill on his desk…even if Democrats aren’t comfortable with the restrictions and limitations contained in SB423.

My guess is that Senate Democrats will vote to suspend the rules pass the bill, possibly with some Democrat-friendly amendments. If it then passes in the House, I’m hearing Schweitzer will offer an amendatory veto easing some of the restrictions contained in the bill, particularly as it relates to the use of medical marijuana by chronic pain patients. That could make it more palatable to Democrats and medical marijuana patients while allowing the Legislature to save face on reform.

Reforming the law has been a priority of both parties, and Democrats don’t want to see repeal. If the Legislature passes some sort of reform, I think it’s less likely that voters repeal it at the ballot box. I think that’s part of the calculation Democrats are making as they decide whether to pass SB423.

Then again, if Democrats have the votes to block the bill, it could end up being a powerful bargaining chip for restoring funding for human services in the governor’s budget.

Just some thoughts to keep you guessing as the Legislature nears the end of debate on one of the most contentious issues of the session.

1 comment:

Publius II said...

Too bad Senator Peterson wasn't paying attention to this procedural gaff, as he was fixated on the 'death' of his Cowboy Code?

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