HELENA — A compromise bill to implement recreational marijuana in Montana had a roller-coaster ride in the Montana House Monday -- and ended right back where it started, facing another debate and vote Tuesday on its possible passage and advancement toward becoming law.
The House initially voted 53-to-47 to reject House Bill 701 Monday afternoon, apparently sending it to a conference committee for further work. Several conservative Republicans spoke strongly against it, saying it doesn't yet fully protect public safety or wisely use the money from marijuana tax revenue.
But some 90 minutes later, bill sponsor Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, asked members to reconsider their action -- and his motion passed 56-to-43, setting up another vote Tuesday to advance the measure.
If the House approves HB701, it will advance to Gov. Greg Gianforte for his signature -- and give lawmakers a better chance at wrapping up the 2021 Legislature this week.
Montana voters approved recreational marijuana last November, by passing an initiative and constitutional amendment. Those votes made recreational marijuana legal in the state, but leading Republican lawmakers have said they intend to create some additional regulations on the drug and tax revenue derived from its sale.
For example, the compromise bill says recreational marijuana will not be sold in counties that voted against the initiatives -- unless voters in those counties choose to allow it. HB701 also makes some changes in how tax revenue from marijuana sales will be distributed.
When the bill first came to the House floor Monday afternoon, a half-dozen conservative Republicans -- including House Majority Leader Sue Vinton of Billings -- rose to speak against it, saying it should be sent to a conference committee for further work.
The motion to endorse the bill in its current form failed 47-to-53 vote with all "no" votes coming from Republicans. All 33 Democrats and 11 Republicans voted for the measure. But after the House broke and reconvened an hour-and-a-half later, Hopkins asked it to reconsider the vote on the bill and place it before members again on Tuesday.
Rep. Derek Harvey, D-Butte, rose to support the move, saying that "misinformation" on the tax rate had been spread during the initial debate. Hopkins' motion to reconsider passed 56-to-43, with nine Republicans changing their minds from the previous vote.