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According to a press release, ballot initiative I-182 seeks to "restore patients' access to medical marijuana by eliminating the three patient limit."

BILLINGS -- Medical marijuana advocates saw big returns Tuesday night and Wednesday morning for ballot initiative 182, which would greatly expand the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday morning that the measure would pass. 

As of 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, voters favored the measure 238,602-183,923, with 422,525 ballots counted. The initiative was passing 56-43 percent at that time. 

The initiative got a boost from larger counties that reported partial results early. Missoula, Gallatin and Lewis and Clark counties showed strong leads for the initiative. 

The passing of the initiative would reverse provisions of a bill passed by the Montana Legislature in 2011. Earlier this year, the Montana Supreme Court upheld parts of the bill that were challenged in a five-year legal battle.

If passed, I-182 would mean that providers of the drug will not be limited to the number of patients they can serve. The previous restriction imposed a limit of three, which was sharply opposed by patients and providers in the program.

Most medical marijuana patients were left without a registered provider under the restrictions. Since they went into effect, patients have left the program. More than a third of patients registered in September left over the next month — 7,785 remained in October, according to the state health department.

I-182 adds post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of eligible conditions, allows for lab testing for marijuana and orders annual health department inspections of providers.

The opposition group to I-182, Safe Montana, was principally funded by Billings businessman Steve Zabawa.

Florida and North Dakota voters passed medical marijuana provisions on Election Day, according to projections at press time. California and Massachusetts recreational marijuana measures were also projected to pass.

Arkansas voters also considered a medical marijuana program. Voters in three other states — Maine, Nevada and Arizona — had legal recreational marijuana on the ballot.

The Independent Record contributed to this report. 

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