The cannabis legislation now returns to the House for a vote on final passage.
By Keith Schubert, Daily Montanan
Senate lawmakers approved the state’s flagship weed implementation and taxation bill on its third reading Friday afternoon.
House Bill 701—the Legislature’s response to the passage of Initiative 1-190—is the culmination of months of planning and debate, needs to pass one more reading in the Senate before being sent back to the House for approval on a series of amendments added in the Senate.
If the House concurs with the Senate amendment, it will be sent to Gov. Greg Gianforte (R). Montana will be that much closer to fulfilling the voters’ wish of recreational marijuana.
The lawmakers involved in shaping the comprehensive bill’s final form said they put aside their own beliefs about marijuana to deliver the best bill to Montanans.
“We spent a lot of time working on this to come up with the best product we could for the state of Montana,” said Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton. “Obviously, with voters supporting this in such a wide margin, I think we have a responsibility, and we take that responsibility as legislators seriously. And that’s what this bill is about finding a solution that fits for Montana.”
Great Falls Democrat Sen. Tom Jacobson echoed Ellsworth’s sentiment.
“We have an obligation here as legislators to represent our constituents, and our constituents and our state did vote for recreational marijuana,” he said. “So, what we did in committee, we set aside those ideologies…and we tried to do the right thing for the people and try to make this a workable solution for everybody.”
While the bill is a departure from the language presented in I-190, an amendment brought forth and approved by the Senate Select Committee on Marijuana by Ellsworth aligned the bill more with the initiative than its original form—which called for very little investment in conservation and parks programs.
The bill could mean millions of more dollars for environment programs and hunting groups and a boost for funding veterans’ care.
“I think we crafted something that represents all Montana. It’s something I was proud to vote for it; I think it includes all of our communities across the state of Montana, including Indian Country,” said Sen. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, about the bill during Friday’s floor discussion.
The bill passed the second reading by a margin of 35-15 and was later approved on third and final reading.