By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, says his Senate Bill 131, which would correct an error on a medical marijuana initiative, is really about the power of the judicial branch of government.
The bill fixes the effective date of a voter-approved initiative that would repeal a three-patient limit for medical marijuana providers. But the language in the bill also admonishes a district judge who ruled in December to repeal the limit before the effective date in the initiative.
On Dec. 7, Helena District Court Judge James Reynolds terminated the three-patient limit immediately, as intended by the initiative’s sponsors.
“The folks that are maybe the most in need are the least able to provide, to grow their own,” Reynolds said. “I think speed is more important than niceties.”
Thomas criticized the ruling, not because the error was corrected, but because he believes the judge violated the Montana Constitution. Thus came SB 131, scolding Reynolds (although not naming him) and corrected the initiative’s effective date.
“If you’re good with violating the constitution and letting the judges run this state, this bill is not for you. And you should re-examine your oath of office,” Thomas said.
During a hearing on the bill in the House State Administration Committee, some lawmakers, like Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, took issue with language about the court system.
“This bill in the whereas’s, calls out a district court judge, accuses them of violating the constitution, and I don’t think that’s necessary,” Bennett said.
In Thomas’s closing remarks, he called the judge’s ruling unconstitutional. He also asked the committee to expedite the hearing for the bill.
“The thought that a judge can rewrite a law, literally rewrite a law, is a little bizarre. Now, you might be fine with that because you like the outcome, fair enough? But it doesn’t mean it’s constitutional,” Thomas said.
The committee agreed to continue discussion on the bill. The bill passed the Senate last week after attempts to remove the language about the judge’s decision died on largely party lines
Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.