Montana Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill, HB 701, Officially Signed

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Governor Greg Gianforte on Tuesday signed the Montana adult-use cannabis bill that will establish a newly formed recreational marijuana program in the state, months after voters in Big Sky country approved a measure to legalize pot.

Gianforte, a Republican in his first term as governor of Montana, attached his name to House Bill 701, which paves the way for the state to become the latest to implement a program overseeing legal adult-use pot sales. 

The Daily Montanan reports that the bill “implements and regulates the recreational marijuana program that voters approved in a ballot initiative last year and funds a substance abuse prevention program that the new governor has championed since his first days in office,” with sales for customers 21 years and older slated to begin in January of next year.

According to the Daily Montanan, “the half of Montana counties that voted for I-190, the ballot initiative legalizing adult-use cannabis, will have recreational in their borders by default, while voters in the the other half of counties will have to take an affirmative action to bring recreational marijuana in their boundaries if so desired.” 

Other provisions in the bill, per the Daily Montanan, include a tax rate of 20 percent on recreational pot sales (compared with five percent on medical marijuana sales), while also shifting “the operation and regulation of the state’s marijuana program from the Department of Public Health and Human Services to the Department of Revenue.”

Gianforte in particular touted the revenues from the Montana adult-use cannabis program that will go toward a treatment program called the HEART 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,” Gianforte said in a statement, as quoted by the Daily Montanan. “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.”

The Newly Signed Montana Adult-Use Cannabis Bill

HB 701 passed out of the state legislature in April, sending the Montana adult-use cannabis legislation straight to Gianforte’s desk.

Montana I-190, the legalization initiative on the state’s ballot last November, passed easily, with 56 percent of Montana voters approving the proposal.

Gianforte said in his statement that he and state lawmakers have “been focused on implementing the will of Montana voters in a safe, responsible, and appropriately regulated manner.” It’s a far cry from Montana’s neighbor to the southeast, South Dakota, where voters likewise passed a legalization measure in November.

 But unlike the experience in Montana, South Dakota’s legalization proposal faced opposition from state leadership almost immediately following the election, with South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom filing a lawsuit to block the amendment. In February, a circuit court judge in South Dakota ruled that the amendment violated the state’s constitution. The case is now being considered by the South Dakota Supreme Court.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, also staunchly opposed the legalization effort.

In a statement on Wednesday, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano highlighted the Republican opposition that advocates have faced in South Dakota, Mississippi, and Montana.

“This is yet another recent example of Republican lawmakers pushing back against the majority of voters who support reforming our failed marijuana laws,” Armentano said. “In Mississippi, we have seen a Republican-led effort nullifying the vote legalizing medical cannabis access, and in South Dakota, the Republican Governor is seeking to overturn voters’ wishes to legalize and regulate the plant’s adult use. Here we have lawmakers tweaking the law in ways that are inconsistent with what the majority of voters decided in favor of. Whether or not one supports or opposes cannabis legalization, one should be deeply concerned by this trend.”

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