Governor Greg Gianforte has signed off on House Bill 701 – state lawmakers’ answer to the marijuana legalization ballot initiative approved by Montana voters last November.
Adult-Use Cannabis Implementation Bill Approved in Montana
Over six months after voters approved Initiative 190, a ballot measure that would legalize adult-use marijuana in Montana, Gov. Gianforte (R) has signed a policy outlining how cannabis will be regulated and taxed in the state.
“Since January, we’ve been focused on implementing the will of Montana voters in a safe, responsible, and appropriately regulated manner. House Bill 701 accomplishes this,” Gov. Gianforte said following the signing of the legislation.
Under House Bill 701, adult-use marijuana sales in Montana are set to begin on January 1st, 2022. However, adult-use dispensaries are only permitted to operate in counties where the majority of voters supported Initiative 190. In counties where the I-190 failed, a local election must be held in order to approve the sale of adult-use cannabis.
The approved measure also gives already-existing medical marijuana businesses an 18-month head start to begin selling adult-use cannabis products before new businesses enter the market – a key change from the voter-approved I-190. As for taxation, House Bill 701 keeps I-190’s 20% tax on adult-use marijuana sales, but the allocation of tax revenue differs greatly from the plan voted on by Montana residents.
The ballot initiative that passed in November dedicated more than 37% of all revenue to the conservation of Montana’s parks and trails, but HB-701 doesn’t set aside any money at all for conservation efforts. Instead, up to $6 million a year will be funneled into Gov. Gianforte’s HEART fund – a reserve that will provide grants for mental health and substance abuse treatment. The remaining revenue will be directed to the state’s general fund.
“From the start, I’ve been clear that we need to bring more resources to bear to combat the drug epidemic that’s devastating our communities,” explained Gov. Gianforte. “Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new supports to Montanans who want to get clean, sober, and healthy.”
While advocates for cannabis reform are largely relieved that an implementation bill for I-190 has been passed at all, many are frustrated by how restrictive HB-701’s regulatory measures are compared to the reforms approved by voters last year.
“The bottom line is the voters voted for one thing, and they got another, and what they got was a lot less than what they voted for,” commented Paul Armentano, the Deputy Director of cannabis advocacy group NORML.
The changes seen in HB-701 come at a time when other GOP-led state legislatures–namely Mississippi and South Dakota–are actively working to weaken or completely overturn cannabis legalization ballot initiatives written by advocates and approved by voters.
House Bill 701 includes several key changes from Initiative 190, including:
- THC potency caps of 35% for cannabis flower
- THC potency caps of 100 milligrams per package for cannabis edibles
- THC potency caps of 800 milligrams per package for cannabis topicals
- Lowering home-growing caps from four plants per person to two plants
- Delaying the start of adult-use sales from October 2021 to January 2022
Despite the strict regulations, supporters of cannabis law reform in Montana are viewing the implementation bill as a major victory – especially when considering the Republican-led Legislature’s long history in favor of marijuana prohibition.
“These were hard negotiations,” said Pepper Peterson, CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild. “Down to the last day of the Legislature, they were trying to [stop] us. There were coordinated efforts between law enforcement and prohibition advocates . . . and we came out on top.”
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