Montana Marijuana Advocates Aim to Legalize Adult-Use Sales in 2020

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Marijuana advocates in Montana have submitted a pair of 2020 ballot initiatives to state officials that would legalize, regulate and tax cannabis products sold in Big Sky Country.

The group, called New Approach Montana, is campaigning for two complementary measures: The first is a statutory initiative that would legalize adult-use cannabis sales, and the second is a constitutional amendment that would allow individuals 21 years and older to purchase, consume or possess marijuana.

According to Pepper Peterson, a co-founder of the campaign, “Montanans support legalizing marijuana and setting the minimum age at 21.”

“We can shift marijuana out of the illicit market and into licensed, regulated, and tax-paying businesses," he said via a press release. "At the same time, we can create jobs and generate significant new revenue for the state.”

New Approach Montana estimates that by 2025, Montana would generate $37 million annually after implementing a 20% sales tax on recreational marijuana products.

Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton and Attorney General Tim Fox must review the petitions before the group can begin gathering signatures, however. If approved, New Approach Montana would then need to collect and submit 25,468 voter signatures to qualify the marijuana legalization measure for the 2020 ballot. Additionally, 50,936 signatures are required for the constitutional amendment to be put in front of voters in November.

“We have every confidence that this uniquely Montanan approach to marijuana legalization, regulation, and taxation will gain widespread support at the ballot box in November,” Peterson said via the release.

Medical cannabis has been legal in Montana since 2004, and Peterson said his group solicited input from a variety of existing cannabis industry stakeholders, as well as voters and policy experts, when drafting the language in the proposed initiatives.

“We have covered every base,” he said, noting that “Montana lawyers with experience in ballot initiative drafting and litigation have carefully vetted the details.”

The proposal, referred to as the “Montana Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act” in the full text of the initiative, would give Montana’s Department of Revenue the authority to issue licenses to cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, dispensaries and cannabis testing labs.

The group is proposing that existing medical marijuana dispensaries be granted first access to sell cannabis products to adult-use customers by April 1, 2021. Meanwhile, the Department of Revenue would have until January 1, 2022 to draft application forms and begin accepting new bids for adult-use licenses.

The group is also proposing that taxes on medical marijuana be reduced, from 2% to 1%, and that tax revenue generated from recreational cannabis sales be deposited into a special state fund. Proceeds would then be allocated to land, water, and wildlife conservation programs, veteran services, substance abuse treatment programs, and long-term health care initiatives.

In addition to a portion of the tax revenue being deposited into Montana’s general state revenue fund, local governments (where marijuana is sold) would also benefit.

Established last March as Coalition406, the advocacy group changed its name to New Approach Montana after it received support from the New Approach political action committee (PAC).

Based in Washington D.C., the New Approach PAC was founded in 2014 and has contributed millions of dollars to cannabis legalization campaigns across the U.S. Notably, the New Approach PAC has contributed to adult-use legalization efforts in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon and Michigan.

The sale of recreational cannabis is currently legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Vermont and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis sales and 47 states have reformed cannabis laws.

New Approach Montana is also endorsed by the Marijuana Policy Project.

A press release with additional information is included below.

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New Approach Montana Submits 2020 Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiatives for State Review

Secretary of State and Attorney General must review the proposed initiatives before signature collecting can begin

Helena, MT — New Approach Montana, a statewide campaign working to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana, today submitted two complementary 2020 ballot initiatives to the state government for review. The first is a statutory initiative that would legalize marijuana in Montana for adults aged 21 and over and establish a regulatory framework for cultivation and sales. The second is a constitutional amendment that would allow the legal minimum age for marijuana consumption to be 21.

“Montanans support legalizing marijuana and setting the minimum age at 21,” said Pepper Petersen, spokesperson for New Approach Montana. “Our initiatives will give voters the opportunity to approve those laws at the ballot box on Election Day. It’s time for Montana to stop wasting law enforcement resources that could be spent fighting more serious crime. We can shift marijuana out of the illicit market and into licensed, regulated, and tax-paying businesses. At the same time, we can create jobs and generate significant new revenue for the state.”

The initiatives were hand-delivered to the Secretary of State and the Legislative Services Division today, starting a review process that will also involve the Attorney General and the Governor’s budget director.

New Approach Montana is sponsoring both initiatives, which were drafted with the assistance of Montana voters, stakeholders, and policy experts.

“These initiatives are the result of a collaborative and diligent drafting process,” said Petersen. “We held seven community listening sessions across the state and received input from hundreds of Montana voters. We’ve spoken with community, church, and tribal leaders. Montana lawyers with experience in ballot initiative drafting and litigation have carefully vetted the details. We’ve received input from Montanans with expertise on our state’s existing medical marijuana program, civil rights, and fiscal policy. We have covered every base.”

The statutory initiative establishes a legalization policy that builds upon Montana’s existing medical marijuana framework.

“It was important to us that Montana entrepreneurs and businesses would be in a strong position to compete in the legalization market, and our initiative ensures that will be the case,” said Petersen. “We have every confidence that this uniquely Montanan approach to marijuana legalization, regulation, and taxation will gain widespread support at the ballot box in November.”

After the Attorney General has approved the final petitions, New Approach Montana must gather 25,468 signatures to qualify the statutory initiative for the 2020 ballot and 50,936 signatures to qualify the constitutional initiative.

New Approach Montana determined that it was necessary to amend the state constitution if Montana was going to follow the example of every other legal state by restricting marijuana to those 21 years and older.

“There is strong precedent for changing the Montana constitution to restrict marijuana to those 21 years and older,” said Petersen. “As a state, we amended the constitution in 1986 to allow the legislature to restrict alcohol sales to those 21 and over. Our 2020 constitutional amendment adds just two words to existing constitutional language that addresses alcohol, so that marijuana can be age-restricted in the same manner.”

The statutory initiative allows possession of up to an ounce by adults aged 21 and older, establishes the Montana Department of Revenue as the regulatory agency, gives Montana medical marijuana providers first entry into the expanded marijuana market, and reduces the tax on medical marijuana from two percent to one percent.

The initiative sets a 20% sales tax on marijuana (this would not apply to medical marijuana) and allocates the tax revenue to land, water, and wildlife conservation programs, veteran services, substance abuse treatment, long-term health care, local governments where marijuana is sold, and general revenue for the state.

“Our campaign’s initial analysis found that a 20% marijuana sales tax would generate over $37 million per year in new revenue by 2025,” Petersen said.

More information, including the full texts of the initiatives, can be found at: www.newapproachmt.org.