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Montana House Advances Three Republican Bills to Implement Adult-Use Cannabis

Democrats disagreed with the bills as they said they made too many changes to the original voter-approved measure.

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April 9, 2021

The Montana House advanced three competing bills on regulating recreational cannabis in the state after Montana voters approved a measure to legalize adult-use cannabis last year.

As previously reported by Cannabis Business Times, 59% of voters approved of I-190, the adult-use legalization initiative, and 61% of the Montana electorate voted in favor of the plan to set the legal age of adult-use cannabis consumption to 21 years old.

According to the Associated Press, the voter-approved measure would allow for cannabis sales to begin in January 2022 and directed a significant amount of cannabis tax revenue toward conservation efforts.

But the bills advanced in the Republican-controlled House on April 6 did not follow that plan and suggested several changes to the voter-approved initiative.

House Bills 707, 701 and 670 were passed in preliminary votes after lawmakers debated them on the House floor, 8KPAX reported.

Republican Legislative leaders urged members to advance all three bills to the Senate to give more time for amendments and lawmakers to consider how to tax adult-use cannabis sales and what to do with the revenue.

The first bill that went up for debate was H.B. 701, sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Hopkins, who said he designed the bill as a comprehensive plan for cannabis legalization. 

The bill would limit licenses to existing cannabis providers for 18 months and set up separate licenses for recreational and medical dispensaries. It would also require counties to "opt-in" to permitted cannabis businesses and send some of the tax revenue to Gov. Greg Gianforte's "HEART Fund" account for mental health and substance abuse treatment, 8KPAX reported.

30 out of 16 amendments brought up by lawmakers were passed, including prohibiting counties from putting a local tax option on cannabis sales, ceasing money from the state's settlement with tobacco companies from being put into the HEART Fund, and reporting Initiative 190, which would protect people from being denied custody, adoption rights or an organ translate from using cannabis, 8KPAX reported.

Only eight Republicans opposed the bill, which passed in a 59 to 41 vote.

H.B. 670, sponsored by Republican Rep. Derek Skees, was the second bill up for debate. 

The bill would raise the medical cannabis tax to 5%, lower the tax on adult-use sales to 15%, and create a single license for medical and adult-use sales. It would also direct one-third of recreational cannabis sales to go into a trust fund to be used for purposes addressing the economic and social costs of cannabis cultivation and processing, the bill states.

Skees said he based his bill on the idea that Montana should not use the cannabis sales revenue to fund new programs because the income is not always guaranteed. 

The third bill up for debate was H.B. 707, sponsored by Republican Rep. Brad Tschida, who said his bill would make the system easier to manage and give the state more control over cannabis. 

The bill would "set up a three-tiered system based on how the state manages alcohol – with marijuana growers selling to wholesalers, who would sell to dispensaries. It would also require a license for people to grow marijuana at home, and it would put all tax revenue from recreational sales in the general fund," 8KPAX reported.

H.B. 670 and 707 both passed 67-33, with the majority of Republicans voting in favor.

The bills advanced to the Appropriations Committee on April 7 and returned to the House floor for a final vote on April 8. 

Editor's Note: This is a developing story and will be updated when the final vote is announced.