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Montana regulators preparing rules ahead of recreational marijuana launch

Posted at 8:50 AM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-26 10:52:36-04

HELENA — The first day of adult-use marijuana sales in Montana will be Jan. 1, 2022.

While Montana Department of Revenue leaders say they’re confident that they’ll be ready for that important date, but there’s a lot of work to do over the next two months.

“The deadlines are aggressive,” said Kristan Barbour, administrator of the department’s Cannabis Control Division. “Really, the rules are our biggest challenge.”

Last week, Revenue released their first extensive package of proposed rules for recreational marijuana businesses.

They include 15 new sections, with the most notable including:

  • Laying out procedures and fees for getting a license to grow, sell or transport marijuana, to manufacture marijuana products or operate a testing lab.
  • Establishing requirements for marijuana labeling, including THC content, warnings and a triangular symbol with a marijuana leaf.
  • Setting policies for “exit packaging” – the package a marijuana product is placed in after it is sold at a dispensary. It must be child-resistant and not designed in a way that would attract children.

Barbour says the department plans to bring out another set of rules as soon as this week, covering things like inspections and enforcement.

“Our focus was really to be business-friendly and to try to work with the industry in a fashion that makes the rules adaptable to their current business structure and that they’ll be able to evolve into without a whole lot of pain,” she said.

The department had to make extensive adjustments to the rules to implement House Bill 701, the new state law that overhauled the framework for legal marijuana sales. One of the biggest changes was shifting from a “vertical” marketplace – in which providers grow, process and sell their own marijuana – to a “horizontal” marketplace – in which growers, manufacturers and dispensaries are all licensed separately.

Barbie Turner — who manages Alternative ReLeaf, a marijuana provider with locations in Libby, Polson and Missoula — says not having the rules in place has made it challenging to plan for Jan. 1.

“That’s difficult,” she said. “We haven’t been able to prepare.”

She says she actually expected the department would have delayed the start of adult-use sales.

For Turner, some of the biggest questions have been what type of labeling her business will have to purchase and at what serving sizes they can sell marijuana edibles.

“If we knew how to maneuver, we could start prepping and making a product and just sit here and wait for the labels, but because we don’t know what those products look like or what is acceptable, we can’t even make a product until these rules come back,” she said.

Still, despite the challenges, Turner says she’s optimistic they can be ready. “It looks like an impossible feat, but because of our experience and what we’ve endured so far, I know we’ll make it happen,” she said.

The department will hold a public hearing on the first rule proposals on Nov. 16. People can also submit written comment through Nov. 29. You can find the full initial rules package and information on how to comment here.

Barbour expects a hearing on the second package by the end of November. Once public comment is closed, they could adjust the rules before they go into effect. Barbour said that likely means they won’t take effect until close to the end of December.

Marijuana issues are again on the ballot for some Montana voters this fall. In next week’s elections, voters in Missoula and Yellowstone Counties could endorse a 3% local option tax on recreational sales, medical sales, or both. Voters in Billings will vote whether to allow or prohibit adult-use marijuana dispensaries within city limits.