HELENA — Marijuana is taking center stage at the Montana Legislature this week as lawmakers hold hearings on a number of bills that would overhaul the state’s upcoming recreational marijuana system.
It was widely expected the implementation of legal marijuana sales in Montana would be one of the main issues in the second half of the legislative session.
The most-talked about bill has been House Bill 701, sponsored by Representative Mike Hopkins, a Republican from Missoula. That bill will be heard in committee on Wednesday.
HB 701 would maintain separate licensing for medical and recreational marijuana providers and delay the issuing of licenses from October to January.
Hopkins’ bill would require local governments to “opt-in” to allowing recreational marijuana businesses before one could open and would redirect up to $6 million a year in revenue to the “Heart Fund", Gov. Greg Gianforte’s proposed account for substance abuse and mental health treatment.
“It is exactly what I sought out to bring forward to the Legislature and the people of Montana, which is a fully functioning, comprehensive program for the implementation of a safe, controlled, responsible program,” said Hopkins.
Two other bills had hearings in the House Business and Labor Committee on Tuesday.
House Bill 670, from Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, would have only a single license for marijuana businesses. They could sell medical marijuana at a 5% tax, up from 4% currently and recreational marijuana at a 15% tax, down from 20% in Initiative 1-90.
The money in Skees bill would go toward state pension liability and into a trust fund to address the impacts of marijuana use. HB 670 would also delay recreational sales until March.
“This is not a race to get recreational marijuana up and going, but a timeline for a thoughtful and quality rollout of a major industry that’ll have huge impacts on Montana’s future,” said Skees
Representative Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, presented House Bill 707 which would turn the recreational program into a three-tiered system. Growers would sell to wholesalers and wholesalers selling to dispensaries.
Tschida’s bill would also require people to get a license to grow marijuana at home and redirect all recreational marijuana tax revenue to the general fund.
“If we can utilize the tax at the wholesale level, perhaps we will limit some of the black market activities,” said Tschida.
Some medical marijuana businesses said Tuesday they saw Skees’ bill as the least disruptive, but the advocates behind Initiative 190 said all the bills go against what the voters of Montana wanted.
“What these representatives and senators are suggesting are radical departures from that implementation. They’re rewrites and repeals, that’s what they are, and there’s no other way to put it,” said Pepper Petersen with the Montana Cannabis Guild.
House Business and Labor say they could begin taking action on the marijuana bills on Thursday, and aspects of multiple bills may end up combined into one.