Montana: Lawmakers Seek to Amend Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization Law

On November 3, 2021, 57 percent of Montana voters decided in favor of Initiative 190, to legalize the use, possession, cultivation, and retail sale of marijuana for adults.

Since I-190 went into effect on January 1, 2021, there have been several attempts by lawmakers to impose delays and other restrictions on the voter-approved law. Here’s a closer look at efforts seeking to delay and/or restrict the policy:

As written, I-190 says that rules and regulations for businesses must be in place by October 2021, and adult use marijuana sales can begin by January 2022. House Bill 457 would have pushed these deadlines back by at least one year. After a public hearing last week, SB 457 was tabled by the House Business and Labor Committee in a 11 to 9 vote on Friday.

Also tabled by the same Committee was House Bill 568, which would have limited “dispensaries to one per 1,000 county residents with a cap of 10 dispensaries per county,” which would result in only about 100 retail outlets statewide. The committee members rejected the proposal in a 18 to 9 vote.

On the other hand, the House Business and Labor Committee also considered House Bill 582, which would have prohibited employers from barring off-the-job medical marijuana use as a condition of employment. The measure was was tabled by the Committee.

Lawmakers are also seeking to amend certain marijuana penalties for juvenile offenders. Currently under state law, those under 21 can face up to 8 hours of drug education or counseling and a $100 fine for up to one ounce of marijuana possession. Members of the House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 517 last week, which would remove these penalties for those between 18-20, and remove the fine for those under 18 caught in possession of any amount of marijuana. The measure is scheduled for a floor vote today.

If you live in Montana, send a message to your lawmakers in support of HB 517.

The Montana Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee took up a different proposal, Senate Bill 341, which would limit the potency in all adult use cannabis and cannabis products to 15 percent. The measure would also impose a purchase limit for consumers at one ounce or eight grams of concentrate per week, scale back employment protections for patients and consumers, and prohibit those with past drug convictions from participating in the marijuana industry. Committee members voted 6 to 3 to move the bill forward. It now awaits action from the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.

If you live in Montana, send a message to your lawmakers in opposition to SB 341.

In addition to legislative attempts to restrict the will of the voters, I-190 is currently facing legal challenges in court on behalf of the opposition group Wrong For Montana. Their lawsuit claims that the initiative language is unconstitutional because it earmarks a portion of tax revenues from retail marijuana sales. Plaintiffs argue that only the legislature can determine how tax revenue is spent. The suit seeks to void the entirety of the initiative language, not just the portion of the initiative relevant to appropriating tax revenues. Litigants filed a similar legal challenge just prior to the election, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the case at that time.

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