Activists in Montana submitted a ballot initiative on Monday that seeks to legalize marijuana.
New Approach Montana, the group behind the measure, also filed a separate proposed constitutional amendment that would allow a technical change to state law stipulating that only adults 21 and older could possess or purchase cannabis.
“Montanans support legalizing marijuana and setting the minimum age at 21,” campaign spokesperson Pepper Petersen said in a press release. “Our initiatives will give voters the opportunity to approve those laws at the ballot box on Election Day.”
“It’s time for Montana to stop wasting law enforcement resources that could be spent fighting more serious crime. We can shift marijuana out of the illicit market and into licensed, regulated, and tax-paying businesses,” Petersen said. “At the same time, we can create jobs and generate significant new revenue for the state.”
“It was important to us that Montana entrepreneurs and businesses would be in a strong position to compete in the legalization market, and our initiative ensures that will be the case. We have every confidence that this uniquely Montanan approach to marijuana legalization, regulation, and taxation will gain widespread support at the ballot box in November.”
The initiatives were hand-delivered to the secretary of state and the Legislative Services Division, which is the first step of a review process involving the state’s attorney general and the governor’s budget director.
If the attorney general approves the measures’ text, organizers must then collect 25,468 signatures for the statutory legalization measure and 50,936 signatures for the constitutional change related to age restrictions, which is necessary under state law to ensure that only those 21 and older and access marijuana, as is the case with alcohol.
“There is strong precedent for changing the Montana constitution to restrict marijuana to those 21 years and older,” Petersen said. “As a state, we amended the constitution in 1986 to allow the legislature to restrict alcohol sales to those 21 and over. Our 2020 constitutional amendment adds just two words to existing constitutional language that addresses alcohol, so that marijuana can be age-restricted in the same manner.”
If it makes it on the ballot and is approved by voters, the statutory initiative would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis, give regulatory responsibility to the Montana Department of Revenue and stipulate that medical cannabis businesses are first in line to enter the recreational market. Individuals could cultivate up to four plants and four seedlings for personal use.
It would also reduce the tax on medical cannabis products from two to one percent while imposing a 20 percent sales tax on adult-use marijuana. Tax revenue from recreational sales would go toward land, water and wildlife conservation programs, veteran services, substance misuse treatment, health care, local governments that allow cannabis businesses and the state general fund.
“Our campaign’s initial analysis found that a 20 percent marijuana sales tax would generate over $37 million per year in new revenue by 2025,” Petersen said.
Text of the statutory legalization measure says it “makes limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age or older and regulates, controls, and taxes the commercial production and distribution of marijuana in order to eliminate the illicit market, reduce crime, provide a safe product, and raise tax revenue.”
Should it be approved, the government would be required to begin issuing cannabis business licenses by January 1, 2022.
The state constitution would be amended under the separate initiative to clarify that a “person 18 years of age or older is an adult for all purposes, except that the legislature or the people by initiative may establish the legal age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing alcoholic beverages and marijuana.”
Montana, where voters approved a medical cannabis legalization initiative in 2004 and later passed a 2016 expansion measure, is one of numerous states where cannabis reform could make the ballot this year.
Already, four such initiatives have qualified: medical cannabis and adult-use legalization measures will get a vote in South Dakota this November, Mississippians will vote on a medical cannabis legalization measure and the New Jersey Legislature voted in favor of a resolution to put the question of recreational legalization to voters through a ballot referendum.
Read the Montana marijuana ballot initiatives below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.