HELENA, Montana — A Billings businessman conceded his proposal to ban marijuana Wednesday, ensuring that no citizen initiatives will be on the ballot in Montana's general election for the first time in more than 40 years.
Steve Zabawa said he didn't gather enough signatures to place his proposal to ban pot on the Nov. 4 ballot. He was the last of a dozen sponsors whose measures didn't qualify after being cleared for signature-gathering.
"At the end of the day, I don't think we're going to make it," he said.
The proposal sought to change state law to say any Schedule I drug in the federal Controlled Substances Act, which includes marijuana, "may not be legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana."
Backers of Initiative 174 needed to obtain at least 24,175 voter signatures by June 20, including 5 percent of voters in at least 34 of the state's 100 House districts. As of Wednesday, the Secretary of State's Office had received just over 3,000 signatures for the measure.
None of the other initiatives are close to having the required number of signatures to get on the ballot either. An initiative that would make it illegal to trap many animals and game birds on public lands within the state of Montana currently has the most with more than 7,500, or 31 percent of the signatures needed. The proposal that would use federal money available through the nation's health care law to expand Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level only had 381 signatures as of Wednesday.
There hasn't been a general election ballot without a citizen initiative since the current Montana Constitution was adopted in 1972, according to secretary of state spokeswoman Terri McCoy.
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said the failure of citizens to obtain enough signatures for their initiatives could be due at least in part to the growing popularity of absentee voting.
"People are so used to getting signatures at primary elections, but with so many people voting absentee ballot, fewer people are going to polls," she said.
It's about a two-month process for citizens to get an initiative cleared for signature gathering, McCulloch said, adding that she believes the process is a good one.
Two legislative referendums that don't require signatures will be on the November ballot. One calls for a constitutional amendment changing the name of the state auditor to the commissioner of securities and insurance.
The second would end voter registration the Friday before Election Day and eliminate Election Day voter registration.
The Montana Supreme Court blocked a third legislative referendum to advance the top two primary vote-getters to the general election, regardless of party. The court ruled the title of the initiative that would have appeared on the ballot fell short of the legal requirements.
Counties have until July 18 to turn in initiative signatures. An official tally will be available later this month.