TOBACCO TAX, MARIJUANA QUALIFY
HELENA -- Initiatives to more than double the taxes on most tobacco
products and legalize marijuana for medical purposes qualified for the
November ballot Friday.
That brings to seven the number of initiatives and referendums that
will go before voters in the fall general election.
Initiative 149 calls for increasing the 70-cent tax on a pack of
cigarettes to $1.70. The tax on chewing tobacco would jump from 35
cents to 85 cents an ounce, and the tax rate on other tobacco products
would double from 25 percent to 50 percent of the wholesale price.
The measure, which takes effect Jan. 1 if passed, would raise an
additional $44.7 million in its first full year, according to
estimates from the governor's budget office.
Most of the new money -- about $38.4 million a year -- would be spent
on programs providing health insurance to poor children; prescription
drugs to poor children, the elderly, chronically ill and disabled; and
help to small businesses that offer employee health insurance.
About $6 million would be added to the state treasury and $414,000
available for state building needs.
The secretary of state's office said Friday it had certified 26,187
petition signatures to qualify the tobacco tax measure in 33 of 56
counties. The medical marijuana measure, known as I-148, had 22,059
certified signatures and qualified in 28 counties.
To get on the ballot, each initiative needed at least 20,510
signatures representing a minimum of 5 percent of the votes cast for
governor in the 2000 election from at least 28 counties.
Supporters of raising tobacco taxes have said the move not only will
mean more money for important health-related programs, but will also
discourage children from taking up smoking.
Healthy Kids Healthy Montana, a coalition of groups backing I-149,
said research indicates the higher tax on cigarettes alone will cut
youth smoking by 16 percent.
I-148 would allow Montanans to grow, possess and use limited amounts
of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions and combat related
pain, nausea, seizures and muscle spasms. Patients could use
marijuana, under medical supervision, to alleviate symptoms related to
such diseases as cancer, glaucoma and AIDS.
In addition to I-148 and I-149, other measures on the ballot
- CI-96 to add a prohibition on gay marriages to the
- I-147 to repeal a ban on use of cyanide in new mining
- CA40 to create in the constitution a $10 million trust fund for
combatting noxious weeds
- CA41 to create a constitutional right to hunt and
- CA42 to extend term limits for legislators from eight years in any
16-year period to 12 years in any 24-year period.