Montana Looks To Legalize Recreational Marijuana After Governor Signs House Bill 701
In recent news the Governor of Montana earlier this week signed his name on House Bill 701. This bill is an important piece of cannabis legislation. This new bill would establish and regulate Montana’s potential recreational marijuana industry. This ballot initiative was approved by voters back in 2020. This initiative would cover the cost of a substance abuse prevention program. Which has been supported by Gov. Greg Gianforte ever since he first took office.
Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula who is a sponsor of this cannabis bill had a long road before making its way to Gov. Gianforte’s desk. Which is one of many proposals that have been sent off during the back half of the session. Yet on the 67th Legislature’s last day, the Senate considered an ultimately failed proposal to amend this bill. HB701’s particularly arranged taxation and the system to collect revenue and efficiently tighten medical card specifications.
With HB701, in place, the purchase of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older will start in January of next year. For the counties in Montana that voted for I-190, the ballot initiative legalizing adult-use cannabis. This measure will have recreational cannabis in its borders by default. However, some voters in other counties will have to take affirmative action. Taking action would help to bring recreational marijuana in their boundaries if they wanted it. The tax on recreational marijuana will stand at 20 percent, while medical marijuana will retain a 5 percent tax.
The First Step For Cannabis Reform In Montana
This cannabis reform proposal also moves the operation and regulation of the state’s marijuana program. The power would shift from the Department of Public Health and Human Services to the Department of Revenue. As well it put in place a special drug court to handle the review and possible resentencing or expungement of past marijuana-related convictions. Which is an important goal of criminal justice advocates for the marijuana program.
This new cannabis bill if made law would take the tax money from legal cannabis sales to help finance the HEART Fund. Which is a drug treatment program. This program would dish out state funds to local organizations and non-profits. It would be done to fill holes in the continuum of substance abuse care and prevention services, Gianforte’s office said.
“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 his statement. “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.”
Finding a metric in which to tax marijuana and how to use the money made is what started a debate over HB701.
The Next Step For Cannabis Reform In Montana
I-190 set down a strategy on how to handle the revenues from legal cannabis. So a 20 percent tax to cover the cost of veterans services, park, and trail maintenance. As well as the acquisition of conservation easements through Habitat Montana. However, the bill, which was approved with a strong 57 percent of the vote, was immediately tested in court. Essentially only the Legislature has the constitutional power to allocate state funds. Currently, this matter is still ongoing.
So, legislators, this session has plans about outlining strategies on how to spend or save the money themselves. Some who are more traditional supported a plan to drop the tax on recreational pot. What those who are conservative fear is a 20 percent tax would push consumers to the black market. As well as place revenues in an interest-bearing trust fund. Which could be used to defray the negative effects of legalization further down the road. The democrats aimed to hew as close to I-190 as much as they could.
Final Thoughts On Montana And Cannabis Reform
Originally, HB701 made small investments in parks, trails, and non-game wildlife paid into the HEART Fund at a rate of $6 million a year. This left the rest to the overall fund. However, having issues with conservation associations led to a deal being made. This deal caused the Senate to restore part of I-190’s funding arrangement.
Although on a delayed agenda, and revived many of its other provisions. For example, earning support from initiative backers. As well as authors who had been reluctant to welcome any legislative changes to I-190 earlier in the session.
“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,” Gianforte said in a press statement sent out after he signed the bill May 18.
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