This Month, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed HB 701 into law, effectively legalizing adult-use cannabis. The infrastructure to support a recreational marijuana industry in the Big Sky state will now be erected in the latest state to advance legalized cannabis through its legislature. The bill was approved by voters several months ago.
According to a report by The Daily Montanan, the bill “implements and regulates the recreational marijuana program that voters approved in a ballot initiative last year and funds a substance abuse prevention program that the new governor has championed since his first days in office.” Sales to adults age 21 and over are expected to go into effect by January of 2022.
The same report from The Daily Montanan expanded on how the bill will impact regions within Montana, affirming, “the half of Montana counties that voted for I-190, the ballot initiative legalizing adult-use cannabis, will have recreational in their borders by default, while voters in the other half of counties will have to take an affirmative action to bring recreational marijuana in their boundaries if so desired.”
Beyond the legalization of adult-use cannabis and infrastructure to support retail sales, additional provisions of HB701 include “a tax rate of 20 percent on recreational pot sales”. Medical marijuana sales are currently subject to a 5 percent tax. The Daily Montanan report also included that “the operation and regulation of the state’s marijuana program from the Department of Public Health and Human Services to the Department of Revenue.”
Governor Gianforte spoke in favor of the legislation and its provisions to ensure that revenue derived from cannabis sales will support a treatment program called the HEART Fund. In his statements on the bill, Gianforte attested, “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. 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.”
While HB 701 passed outside of the state legislature in April, it took some time to get the attention of Governor Gianforte after landing on his desk. 56 percent of Montana voters approved Montana I-190, the state’s legalized cannabis initiative, as part of last November’s general election.
The advancement of legalization legislation by voter initiative and Governor ratification stands in stark contrast to their southern neighbor, South Dakota. Last November, South Dakota voters also approved an initiative to legalize cannabis. However, state leaders and law enforcement denied the will of the people and overturned the decision to legalize cannabis in the state. Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota was also vocally opposed to the amendment. Acknowledging the contrast between voter initiative outcomes in his statement, Governor Gianforte asserted that he and lawmakers were “focused on implementing the will of Montana voters in a safe, responsible, and appropriately regulated manner.”
South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom went so far as to file a lawsuit to block the voter-approved amendment following the November election. Months later, a South Dakota circuit court judge ruled the approved amendment violated South Dakota’s constitution. The case has now received attention from and is being considered by the South Dakota Supreme Court.