Bill To Dismantle Montana Adult-Use Weed Market Goes Down in Flames

You are still free to get high in the “Big Sky.” That is because last week, lawmakers in Montana voted to table a bill that would have effectively dismantled the state’s new adult-use cannabis program.

Republican state Sen. Keith Regier introduced Senate Bill 546 in Montana last month that would have eliminated recreational marijuana dispensaries in Montana.

Almost 60 percent of voters in Montana approved a ballot initiative in November 2020 to legalize weed for adults aged 21 and older, which set up a regulatory framework for a state-sanctioned recreational cannabis market.

Recreational cannabis sales launched last year, ultimately bringing in more than $200 million to the state in 2022.

The Montana Department of Revenue reported in January that sales of adult-use marijuana amounted to $202,947,328 in 2022, while medical cannabis sales came to $93,616,551. (Montana voters legalized medical cannabis in 2004.)

But Regier’s bill never made it out of the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee, which held a hearing on the measure on March 29.

“I just think it’s good not to make voters think that their voice doesn’t count. Then they really turn away from this whole process,” Kate Cholewa, who represents the trade group Montana Cannabis Industry Association, said at last week’s hearing for the bill, as quoted by Montana Free Press.

Per the outlet, Regier addressed that objection during his opening remarks at the hearing, saying that there “have been several examples of the will of the voters being reversed.” (“Two of the three examples he cited involved voter initiatives being overturned by courts, not lawmakers,” Montana Free Press noted.)

Regier’s bill would have also raised “the state tax on medical marijuana from 4% to 20% and puts significant limits on medical marijuana potency and allowable amounts for possession,” Montana Free Press reported last month.

The issue of marijuana potency was raised at last week’s committee hearing.

“There is no need to have 90% potent marijuana products unless you’re trying to addict kids,” 

Said Dr. Kevin Sabet, co-founder and president of the national anti-marijuana organization Safe Approaches to Marijuana, as quoted by Montana Free Press. “That’s simply the only reason to do it. Or addict (sic) people in the workplace and cause crashes on the road.”

But on Thursday, members of Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee decided they had heard enough, and voted 6-4 to table the bill.

According to Montana Free Press, “three Republican committee members—Senate President Jason Ellsworth, Committee Chair Jason Small and Sen. Walt Sales—joined with all three Democratic members to oppose the bill,” before the “committee subsequently tabled the bill unanimously.”

It might not be the Montana legislature’s last word on cannabis reform.

Last month, that same committee in the state Senate “heard testimony on two marijuana-related bills,” according to local news station KTVH, including one that “would prohibit marijuana businesses in Montana from promoting their business or brand in print, over TV and radio or using a billboard.”

The other proposal “would revise the required warning labels that marijuana businesses must put on their products, to say that marijuana use during pregnancy could result in ‘congenital anomalies, and inherited cancers developed by a child later in life,’” KTVH reported.

Tax revenue from marijuana sales in Montana are used to support a number of programs in the state, including the HEART Fund, which provides money for substance abuse treatment in Montana.

“Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new support to Montanans who want to get clean, sober, and healthy,” the state’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, said in 2021.

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