Montana Lawmakers Advance Three Bills To Implement Legal Cannabis

Montana residents voted to legalize marijuana back in November. Now, lawmakers are working out the details.
Montana Lawmakers Advance Three Bills To Implement Legal Cannabis

With Montana set to become the next state to legalize marijuana, lawmakers in Big Sky Country will have some options on how to go about implementing the policy.

Local TV outlet KPAX reported this week that legislators there in the state House have “advanced three bills that provide different visions for how to implement recreational marijuana in the state, after legislative leadership asked them to keep all three alive.”

According to KPAX, House Bills 701, 670 and 707 have all passed in “preliminary votes” after floor debates, giving hope to sponsors of each piece of legislation that theirs may still gain ultimate passage. All three bills have been brought up by Republican members of the House, with each offering a distinct vision on how to bring legalization to Montana.

HB 701 “would set up separate licenses for medical and recreational dispensaries, limit licenses to existing marijuana providers for 18 months, require counties to ‘opt-in’ to allowing marijuana businesses and send some of the tax revenue to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s ‘HEART Fund’ account for mental health and substance abuse treatment,” according to KPAX.

HB 670, meanwhile, would “create a single license for medical and recreational marijuana sales, lower the tax on recreational sales to 15% and raise the medical marijuana tax to 5%,” KPAX said, while also earmarking a third of the revenue from recreational pot toward “a trust fund to address negative impacts of marijuana use, with the rest going toward the state’s public employee pension liability.”

And finally, HB 707 “would set up a three-tiered system based on how the state manages alcohol—with marijuana growers selling to wholesalers, who would sell to dispensaries,” KPAX reported, while also requiring “a license for people to grow marijuana at home, and it would put all tax revenue from recreational sales in the general fund.”

Marijuana in Montana

Voters in Montana approved a measure last November to legalize marijuana, one of four states to pass such ballot measures in last year’s elections. The others were New Jersey, Arizona and South Dakota—although the latter’s prospects for implementation are dim after a judge in South Dakota nullified the measure. 

Montana voters won’t have to worry about that outcome, with their lawmakers busy carving out a regulatory system for implementation. The three bills currently being debated in the state House are expected to be brought to a final vote on Thursday.

KPAX said that virtually all Democrats in the House objected to the bills, saying that all three pieces of legislation “made too many changes to the voter-approved initiative that laid out a framework for recreational marijuana.”

Groundwork for the regulatory framework in Montana began the same month voters passed the marijuana measure, with the state’s Department of Revenue announcing in November that it had begun making plans on how to award licenses. 

The department said that it expected to begin accepting license applications in October of next year.

“On November 3, 2020, Montana voters approved initiatives regarding the sale, possession and taxation of marijuana for adults 21 and over. Per Initiative 190, the department will begin accepting applications for necessary licenses by October 1, 2021,” the department said in the announcement.

“Under I-190, the Montana Department of Revenue will license and regulate the cultivation, transportation and sale of marijuana and marijuana-infused products, and will inspect premises where marijuana is cultivated or sold. We anticipate that the Legislature will address the initiative during the legislative session beginning January 4, 2021.”

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