In mid-July, the hard work of New Approach Montana campaigners paid off: County-level data showed that a sufficient number of the organization’s more than 130,000 signatures had been verified in order to place two adult-use cannabis legalization measures before voters in November.
That was no small task. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing guidelines made it difficult to gather the required signatures across an already sparsely populated state. In late April, a court ruling prevented the campaign from moving to an electronic signature drive—further dampening prospects.
But New Approach Montana prevailed. “We overcame the odds by running the most innovative signature drive ever seen in Montana,” campaign officials wrote on Facebook in July. “Now, we are focused on building support with voters from across the state.”
On the table are two complementary ballot initiatives. Statutory Initiative 190 would establish a system to regulate and tax cannabis for adult use, while Constitutional Initiative 118 would authorize Montana to set the legal age for consumption at 21. As campaign officials have stated, the two issues are meant to pass together.
“The good news is that, as of today, the official county numbers show that our campaign collected enough valid signatures to qualify both of our initiatives for the ballot. That’s an incredible achievement, and we’re grateful to everyone who supported that effort,” New Approach Montana leaders wrote to supporters via email. “But here’s the bad news: this is going to be a tough fight, and due to the challenges we faced in the signature drive, we were forced to spend far more than we planned. And now, we’re behind our fundraising goals.”
Looking ahead, Dave Lewis, retired Montana state legislator and budget director for three Montana governors, said in a public statement that these issues could really galvanize a state budget that’s been hammered by economic shutdowns this year.
"COVID has done a number to the state's projected tax revenue for 2020 and 2021, it's been devastating,” Lewis said. “Adding nearly $50 million dollars a year to the state budget with legal adult use marijuana isn't just a bonus. This projected revenue has already become vital to the future budget of this state, and veterans’ services like all other services need tax revenues to continue.”