Montana was one of four states to legalize recreational marijuana in November 2020. Constitutional Initiative 118 allowed the possession of marijuana by individuals over the age of 21, and Ballot Initiative 190 legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana. Subsequently, the Montana Legislature passed House Bill 701, providing a framework for the new law. The bill was signed by Governor Greg Gianforte in May 2021, allowing the recreational use and sale of marijuana to begin in January 2022.
When the medical marijuana industry boomed in 2009, many jurisdictions passed zoning ordinances banning the sale of cannabis. The new recreational law allows city and county governments to implement similar laws, and those jurisdictions are expected to continue banning cannabis sales. The law does not modify the existing environment with employers, who do not have to accommodate the use of marijuana at the workplace or by their employees. Cannabis cannot be consumed in public and driving under the influence of marijuana is a crime.
The recreational use of cannabis will be just as carefully regulated as the medical use has been. The Department of Revenue has been directed to set up regulations regarding the recreational sale of marijuana which are to be in place in October.
There is a lot of interest in the business opportunities recreational marijuana will present in Montana, however, presently the only individuals that will be allowed to sell recreational marijuana will be residents of Montana with a preference for the current providers of medical marijuana. Providing cannabis to another individual without the proper license will still be a crime, but individuals will be allowed to cultivate and possess marijuana in limited quantities for their own use.
While estimates vary, the new law is expected to bring in tens of millions in revenue annually. The sale of recreational marijuana will be taxed at 20%, while medical marijuana is capped at 5%. Part of the revenue generated is expected to fund drug treatment and rehabilitation programs. It is also expected to provide an avenue for individuals to seek the expungement or resentencing for past marijuana related convictions.
Both the initiative and the bill passed by the Legislature have been carefully thought out based on the trials and errors of the medical marijuana laws in the past. Montana has always been a state that values liberty and personal responsibility, and the new marijuana laws are just the latest expression of those ideals.
Carl Jensen Jr.