Anti-marijuana groups in Montana have moved to dismiss their own lawsuit challenging a voter-approved legalization measure after the governor signed separate reform legislation into law.
SAFE Montana and Wrong For Montana say their lawsuit is no longer necessary since Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed HB 701 last month. They filed a motion to dismiss the case in the Montana First Judicial Court late last week.
“While we hoped to see this process proceed successfully, we instead will champion the work done in the legislature to pass HB 701 into law,” Steve Zabawa, executive director of SAFE Montana, said in a statement. “We are proud to say that as a result of HB 701, Montana will move forward with some of the tightest regulations on the marijuana industry in the country.”
The lawsuit attempted to make the case that voter-approved Initiative 190 was unconstitutional because it appropriated some cannabis tax revenue, allegedly violating a portion of the state Constitution that prohibits such activity from being included in a citizen initiative.
Montana’s attorney general, as well as the pro-legalization campaign, previously petitioned the court to dismiss the case, which was ultimately stayed until the end of the legislative session last month.
Because of the enactment of the legalization implementation bill that saw the legislature get its chance to steer cannabis revenue—as well as a separate bill that prohibits ballot measures from appropriating funds—Zabawa said the legal challenge was no longer needed.
Pepper Petersen, political director of the pro-legalization New Approach Montana campaign, told Law360 that the lawsuit “was a desperate attempt to undo the will of the voters of Montana.”
Zabawa, for his part, told The Helena Independent Record that cannabis foes are “ready to move on to the next chapter” and may seek to overturn or scale back legalization through the legislature or a future ballot initiative.
Under the marijuana reform bill that Gianforte signed, adults 21 and older will be able to begin purchasing cannabis products from licensed retailers in January 2022. Recreational marijuana items will be taxed at 20 percent, while medical cannabis will have a five percent tax.
Portions of the revenue derived from adult-use sales will go toward substance misuse treatment programs in the state.
The lawsuit’s failure is welcome news to advocates, who have seen multiple reform efforts thwarted in courts across the state over the past year.
Last month, for example, the Mississippi Supreme Court invalidated a medical cannabis legalization initiative that voters had approved in November 2020.
In April, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
In South Dakota, the fate of an adult-use legalization initiative that voters approved last November is also in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, where a sheriff is challenging its constitutionality based on a single-subject rule.