Billings doctor, law enforcement urge voters not to legalize recreational marijuana – Billings Gazette


Wrong for Montana press conference

Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder speaks during a Wrong for Montana press conference at Pioneer Park in Billings on Thursday.

A small group of people, including two law enforcement officials and a local Billings Clinic doctor, advocated on Thursday against legalizing recreational marijuana.

Wrong for Montana emerged in late September, led by Billings car dealer Steve Zabawa, who previously fought against medical marijuana expansion in 2014 and 2016 to oppose Initiative 90 and Constitutional Initiative 118, joint initiatives that if pass, would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana and set the age of consumption at 21.

Eleven states, and the District of Columbia, have fully legalized marijuana for adult use in the U.S. Medical marijuana is legal in Montana.

The campaign focuses on the “societal costs” of medical marijuana in legalized states like Colorado, and is backed by the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Contractors Association and the Montana Bankers Association.

On Thursday at Pioneer Park, several local faces emerged to take a stand against legalized recreational marijuana, including Billings Police Chief Rich St. John, Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder and a Billings Clinic psychiatrist. 

Proponents for legalization, including New Approach Montana which put the issue on the November ballot, has said that Wrong for Montana is peddling in myths to try to sway voters.

“We know the majority of Montanans agree that voting on I-I90 and CI-118 is the right decision for Montana,” Pepper Petersen, the spokesman for New Approach Montana said. “Our opponents are spreading misinformation in an attempt to cause confusion.”

Petersen told Lee Montana Newspapers that Montana’s more than 38,000 medical marijuana cardholders show people can be responsible cannabis users.

St. John and Linder both adamantly oppose the drug’s legislation, saying it would increase violent and property crime and the state would see more instances of marijuana-related DUIs.

“Legalized marijuana will be a significant problem and exacerbate addiction and social problems we’re struggling to deal with now,” St. John said at the event.

A 2019 study published on crime rates in Washington and Colorado after legalization suggests that recreational marijuana had a minimal effect on crime rates there.

FBI crime stats analyzed from 1999 to 2016 in both states suggest that crimes remained steady after legalization, the study said, which was conducted by researchers at Washington State University, Stockton University and the University of Utah.

Linder shared personal anecdotes from his career in law enforcement that suggested to him that marijuana was a “gateway drug” to more serious drug abuse.

Wrong for Montana press conference

Todd O’Hair, President of the Montana Chamber of Commerce speaks during a Wrong for Montana press conference at Pioneer Park in Billings.

“Regardless of what some people might say, marijuana is a precursor to worse things to come,” Linder said.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse some research suggests marijuana use preceded the use of other drugs, but the “majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”

The NIDA also said that other factors like a person’s social environment were critical to drug use, and that tobacco or alcohol were also typically used before a person progressed to more harmful substances.

Wrong for Montana press conference

David Smith, the Executive Director of the Montana Contractors Association speaks during a Wrong for Montana press conference at Pioneer Park.

Bob Sise, an addiction psychiatrist at Billings Clinic, said he saw an increase in depression and anxiety in frequent cannabis users and was concerned more youths would abuse the drug.

Billings Clinic and its foundation have not taken a stance on the issue, said Clinic spokesman Zach Benoit, who attended the rally.

Both New Approach Montana and Wrong for Montana have pushed for advertising in the final days before the election.

Wrong for Montana raised more than $78,000 and used more than $61,000 in advertising, The Missoulian reported. New Approach Montana spent $2.3 million in television commercials to run from October and into November.

This article originally appeared here in

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