Montana voters will have their say through a ballot initiative this November on whether the state should legalize adult-use marijuana.
Montana’s Secretary of State confirmed earlier this month that cannabis reform advocates had successfully collected the required number of signatures from registered voters to qualify two separate but complementary measures for the ballot. The first, I-190, would legalize possession and sales of cannabis up to one ounce, and cultivation of no more than four plants and four seedlings. The measure would also set a 20 percent tax on recreational marijuana sales. The second, CI-118, would amend Montana’s constitution to allow lawmakers to set the minimum age for legal cannabis purchases at 21.
The group behind the ballot initiative, New Approach Montana, needed to collect around 25,000 verified signatures of registered voters to qualify I-190 for the ballot, while the constitutional amendment, CI-118, required around double that amount. In the end, New Approach Montana reported surpassing the minimum requirements by a long way to qualify both measures.
“Our research has always shown that a majority of Montanans support legalization, and now voters will have the opportunity to enact that policy, which will create jobs and generate new revenue for our state,” said Pepper Petersen, campaign spokesperson for the group.
“It also means that law enforcement will stop wasting time and resources arresting adults for personal marijuana possession, and instead focus on real crime,” he added.
The campaign’s success comes in spite of the difficulties caused by the coronavirus outbreak, which hampered signature-gathering efforts across the country. In response to social distancing guidelines, New Approach Montana went to court to seek approval for collecting signatures electronically, and to push back the deadline to submit signatures for verification, but their case was dismissed. The group responded by relaunching signature-gathering efforts with social distancing measures in force, such as the use of disposable pens.
If the two ballot measures are approved by Montana voters, the Montana Department of Revenue would assume responsibility for regulating the legal cannabis industry. The agency would be required to issue the first business licenses by January 1, 2022, with medical cannabis businesses given priority to start operating in the recreational market.
The Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning predicts an adult-use cannabis industry in Montana will bring in around $38.5 million through sales taxes annually by 2025. Provisions under I-190 would ensure half this revenue would go to the state general fund, while the rest would be allocated towards conservation programs, substance abuse treatment, healthcare costs, and veterans’ services.
Montana joins Arizona, New Jersey and South Dakota as states that will vote on a marijuana legalization question this November. South Dakota voters will also have their say on a separate medical cannabis legalization question. Mississippi and Nebraska have also confirmed they will hold votes this November on measures to legalize medical marijuana.