The cannabis industry in Montana has a history as rich and colorful as the Wild West.
It was one of the nation’s first medical states, passing medical legalization by ballot initiative in 2004. Despite having fewer than 1 million residents, the number of medical cardholders soared to 31,000 patients statewide by 2010. The industry, however, was met with hostility from the state’s deeply conservative Legislature. In 2011, then-Governor Brian Schweitzer, a populist cowboy and a Democratic showman, threatened anti-cannabis GOP members that he would wield his VETO-shaped branding iron on any attempt to repeal the will of the voters. But, repeal they did anyway. Not so coincidentally, on the same day that lawmakers voted to repeal the law, federal agents raided Montana and many vanguards of the industry were subsequently indicted.
A compromise was eventually reached, resembling “repeal in disguise.” Patient counts dwindled to as low as 2,000, before voters took matters back into their own hands, passing a second initiative in 2016. Since then, Montana’s industry has been booming, climbing back up to roughly 36,000 patients. The medical program is now strictly regulated by the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. Purchases are taxed at only 2% and limited to one ounce of cannabis per day and no more than five ounces per month.
In order to obtain a dispensary license, you must first successfully apply for a provider license. If you intend to manufacture and sell marijuana-infused products, you must apply for a chemical manufacturing endorsement. Providers must reside in Montana for at least one year before applying for a license.
In November 2020, voters will see a new legalization initiative that recently gained enough signatures to qualify for the ballot this fall. With the backing of the National Marijuana Policy Project and other state and national organizations, the two complementary 2020 ballot initiatives seek to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adult use over the age of 21. Under the statutory proposal, marijuana sales would be taxed at 20%. The law would give Montana medical marijuana providers the first entry into the adult-use market, allow for limited personal possession and cultivation, tightly regulate production and distribution, shift regulatory authority for marijuana to the state Department of Revenue and create a new funding source of tax revenue for veterans, health care, education, infrastructure and conservation efforts. With polling showing overwhelming support for adult use in Big Sky Country, Montana could be fully legalized by 2021.
Ellie Hill Smith
The Law Office of Ellie Hill Smith is located on Caras Park in downtown Missoula, Montana. She specializes in handling cases in the areas of criminal law, civil rights, Youth in Need of Care (Dependent Neglect), child abuse and neglect, parental and foster family rights, family law, and mediation. In 2001, Ellie graduated from University of Idaho, College of Law and she is licensed to practice in both Idaho and Montana.
Ellie uses her hands-on courtroom experience, knowledge of the law, and familiarity with the judicial system to provide clients with legal solutions that protect their rights and to obtain positive outcomes.
Ellie also works on public policy solutions, through her service in the Montana legislature, amending statutes when necessary and improving the criminal justice system to become more compassionate and client-centered. Criminal justice reform is her long recognized political priority.
Ellie has been a presenter on a variety of legal topics before the Montana State Bar on numerous occasions and published a variety of articles for the Montana Lawyer state bar journal.