Montana residents look set to have their say on marijuana legalization after cannabis reform advocates collected the required number of signatures for two separate proposed ballot initiatives.

New Approach Montana, the group behind both initiatives, submitted the signed petitions to state officials who will now start verifying the signatures.

The first measure is a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would legalize marijuana in Montana for adults aged 21 and older, and establish a regulatory framework for cultivation and sales. The proposal, Constitutional Amendment 118, attracted more than 80,000 signatures.

To qualify for the ballot in Montana, a petition concerning a constitutional amendment must garner a minimum of 50,936 verified signatures from registered voters. The proposal must also surpass a threshold of signatures in at least 40 of Montana’s 100 legislative districts.

The second proposed change is a statutory initiative that would permit an adult-use cannabis industry in Montana with a 20 percent tax on sales. The signature and district threshold for statutory measures are lower at 25,468 verified signatures from a minimum of 34 districts. The statutory measure, Initiative 190, garnered around 520,000 signatures from more than the required number of districts.

New Approach Montana faced extra challenges during the signature-gathering process owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, as has been the case for marijuana reform efforts throughout the country. After initially disbanding the campaign, Pepper Petersen, a New Approach Montana spokesperson, said they relaunched and adapted to social distancing guidelines by issuing petitioners with masks and plastic-wrapped, single-use pens. In spite of these hurdles, and many others, the campaign far surpassed the minimum requirements for both measures to qualify for November’s ballot.

“We’ve overcome a global pandemic, wildfires, floods, hail, snow, and hurricane force winds,” Petersen said in a press release. “Our campaign implemented strict health protocols and worked around the clock so that Montana voters could sign our petitions safely and qualify these popular initiatives for the November ballot. We collected signatures from every corner of the state and all 100 state house districts.”

“It’s really exciting to see that kind of broad support, and just to see the great number of people that support this policy,” he said. “We’re confident that we’ve got a good buffer, and so that the verification process will go forward and we’ll come out of that on top.”

A 2019 survey of Montana voters found majority support for adult-use cannabis legalization. At the same time, a recent ACLU report highlighted the desperate need for criminal justice reform in Montana with a black person 9.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person; the worst racial disparity in the country.

The onus is now on county election officials across Montana to verify the submitted signatures within four weeks. Those officials will check to ensure that each signature is of a registered voter, that the signature is a match for the one on record, and that there are no duplicates within the list. Once verified, county officials then pass the signatures onto the Secretary of State’s office which reviews the submissions and confirms whether or not the measures will be on November’s ballot.

“We’re excited about this part of the process,” Petersen said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Should the collected signatures pass the verification process, Montana will likely join New Jersey and South Dakota in fielding adult-use cannabis legalization questions to voters this November.

Like New Approach Montana, marijuana reform activists in Nebraska also faced challenges during the signature-gathering process for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. Those efforts also look set to be rewarded after Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana submitted 60,000 more signatures than required for its ballot proposal.

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