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Montana Lawmakers Seek to Amend Voter Approved Marijuana Legalization Laws

Montana lawmakers are considering a flurry of marijuana-related bills, some of which seek to either restrict or delay the voter-approved marijuana legalization measure.

The bills concern Montana voters’ decision to legalize the use, possession, cultivation and sales of marijuana through a ballot measure on Election Day 2020. The measure – Initiative 190 – garnered 57 percent of the vote.

The provisions of I-190 – which took effect on January 1, 2021 – stipulate the rules and regulations governing the legal cannabis market must be established by October 2021, with sales starting by January 2022. However, a bill introduced to the House, HB 457, would postpone these deadlines by a minimum of one year. HB 457 is currently under review by the House Business and Labor Committee, following a public hearing at the end of February.

The same committee considered another two pieces of marijuana-related legislation. The first, HB 568, would limit dispensaries to one per 1,000 county residents at a maximum of 10 dispensaries per county. In effect, this would put a cap of 100 dispensaries statewide. The House Business and Labor Committee voted 18 to 9 against the measure. The other, HB 582, would prohibit employers from refusing to hire medical marijuana patients on the basis of their cannabis use when not at work. The bill has been tabled by the committee for the time-being.

House lawmakers are also considering legislation to amend cannabis penalties for underage users. Under Montana’s current marijuana laws, those under 21 face eight hours of drug counseling and a $100 fine for possession of up to one ounce of cannabis. The House Judiciary Committee approved a measure, HB 517, that would remove these penalties for those aged 18-20, while the fine would be removed for those under 18.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee considered a bill, SB 341, that would restrict THC potency in legal cannabis products to 15 percent. It would set a cannabis purchase limit on consumers, with a maximum of one ounce of flower or eight grams of concentrate per week. SB 341 also contains provisions that would weaken employment protections for medical marijuana patients and recreational consumers, while prohibiting individuals with a cannabis conviction from working in the legal industry. The bill was approved in a 6-3 vote, and now heads to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee for further deliberation.

Montana’s voter-approved measure to legalize marijuana isn’t just facing challenges in the legislature. I-190 is also being challenged in Montana’s courts by the anti-legalization group Wrong for Montana. The plaintiffs claim the language of I-190 is unconstitutional since it apportions cannabis sales tax revenues and this should only be the job of the legislature. Wrong for Montana filed a similar legal challenge to the state’s Supreme Court just before the Election Day vote, but it was swiftly dismissed as the plaintiff’s had not first brought their case to a lower court.

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