The Montana legislature passed a House bill on Tuesday to implement the recreational marijuana legalization initiative passed by voters in the November election. The measure, HB 701, was passed by the Montana House of Representatives with a vote of 67 to 32 after being approved previously by the state Senate. The bill is now headed to the office of Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who is expected to sign the legislation.
House Bill 701 implements Initiative 190, an adult-use cannabis legalization measure that was passed by Montana voters in last year’s general election. The measure is one of three bills drafted to enact Initiative 190 that were approved by the House earlier this month.
HB 701 Nearly Failed Before Passage
Only House Bill 701 was approved by the Senate, but only after being heavily amended in the upper chamber of the legislature. Republicans in the House rejected the amended version in a vote on Monday, in part over the allocation of cannabis taxes to conservation efforts as directed by Initiative 190.
At that point, the bill was on the verge of being assigned to a conference committee where House and Senate lawmakers would address differences in their respective versions of the legislation. However, Rep. Mike Hopkins, the sponsor of HB 701, was able to convince his fellow Republicans to bring the measure back to the House floor for another vote.
On Tuesday, the bill was brought up for a second reading. Before the vote, Hopkins reminded Republicans wary of cannabis legalization that if the legislature failed to pass the measure, the original language of Initiative 190 would become state statute by default.
“We need to have this in place before we walk out of this building. If we don’t, we will regret it,” Hopkins said. “When we came into this session, we were not asked to figure out if marijuana should be legal or not—that’s already happened—but we were tasked with figuring out how to make it safe.”
“We will walk out of this session having delivered forward to the people of Montana something that works,” Hopkins added.
After the vote, Hopkins said that while he understands the concerns of his colleagues who wanted to continue working on the bill, he believes HB 701 was the best bill, and rejecting the Senate’s amendments would have been a mistake.
“The ramp that we have to the end of the legislative session, the work that the Senate had already done and the agreements that they had already come to meant that sending this bill back to a conference committee wouldn’t outright kill it, but would go about as far towards killing it as you could go without killing it,” Hopkins said. “It was a bad idea.”
HB 701 Makes Significant Changes To Voter Initiative
House Bill 701 significantly changes the regulatory framework established under Initiative 190. Under the measure passed by lawmakers, existing medical marijuana providers will be allowed to apply for licenses to sell cannabis for use by adults. Legal recreational marijuana sales are slated to begin on January 1, 2022, with the regulated market limited to currently licensed providers for the first 18 months. Home cultivation would be permitted with a limit of two plants per adult or four plants per household.
Pepper Petersen, president and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild, said the final bill isn’t perfect, but “we can work with it.” Noah Marion, the state policy director of the Montana Wilderness Association, praised the allocation of tax revenues to conservation efforts.
“Passing House Bill 701 isn’t just a victory for Montana’s state parks, trails, public access, working lands, and habitat,” said Marion. “It’s a historic investment in the future of communities across the state and a commitment to conserving our outdoor way of life for generations to come. We encourage Governor Gianforte to sign it into law without delay.”
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Gianforte told reporters that the governor was “encouraged by the progress of HB 701, and will carefully review the bill when it reaches his desk.”