This year has quickly transformed into a historic time that will be remembered for tremendous change throughout the U.S., and cannabis legalization will play a huge role. Montana is the latest state to join New Jersey, South Dakota, and Arizona in the quest to legalize adult-use cannabis within the states’ purveyance.
Thanks to the cannabis activists of New Approach Montana, who collected the required number of signatures in June, the state has adopted two complementary ballot measures to address the legal adult-use cannabis market in Montana. Together, the measures seek to regulate personal use, commercial production, and retail sale of cannabis for those 21 and older. Montanans will vote on each measure this November in the general election.
The first measure, known as Initiative No. 90 (I-90), will allow for adults in Montana to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, as well as up to four plants, for personal use — regardless of a specified medical condition. Cannabis will be taxed at 20 percent on all retail sales (except for medical cannabis, which will be lowered from two percent to one), and all taxed revenue will funnel toward veteran services, substance abuse treatment/rehabilitation, health care, and other related programs.
The second measure, Constitutional Initiative No. 118 (CI-118), affirms that a person is legally considered an adult at age 18, except for any legislature regarding the purchase of “alcoholic beverages or marijuana,” which you must be 21 or older to do. This measure would “amend the Montana Constitution to allow the legislature or the people by initiative to establish the legal age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing marijuana.”
Cannabis is currently only legal in a medical capacity in Montana. As with many other medically-legal states, Montana currently requires both a doctor’s note and approval from the state’s medical marijuana program for a person to be considered a legal medical cannabis patient. Qualifying conditions include cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, Crohn’s Disease, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hospice care, painful peripheral neuropathy, severe nausea, seizures/epilepsy, and PTSD.
Montana voters first approved medical cannabis in 2004 through the passage of Initiative 148, the state has since enacted policies that severely limit patients’ access to cannabis. However, a 2016 initiative expanded the program and removed some of the restrictions the current initiatives being debated will work to continue to knock down.
Assuming both initiatives pass on November 3rd, the Montana Department of Revenue would then be responsible for regulating the new legal cannabis industry. Business licenses will need to be issued by January 1, 2022, and existing medical cannabis businesses will be given priority for the application process, which tends to be lengthy.
Financially, a legal cannabis market is expected to bring in significant revenue for the state. A recent fiscal note from the Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning estimates $38.5 million in cannabis retail tax profit by the year 2025.
Adult-use cannabis legalization will not only generate revenue for the state, but will create jobs and allow for the government and police to focus on crime. There is no specification whether the state will be working to expunge the records of any person who’s served time for low-level cannabis crimes, but similar initiatives in New Jersey and Arizona may eventually have influence on Montana’s stance on the issue.