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Election 2020: Montana cannabis legalization guide

Published on July 29, 2020 · Last updated September 9, 2020
Montana voters legalized adult-use marijuana in the 2020 election. The retail stores are opening on Jan. 1, 2022. (Illustration: Joshua Titus for Leafly)

Montana’s Initiative 190

Read the full proposal here: Montana’s Initiative 190 (adult-use legalization)

Montana’s Constitutional Initiative 118

Read the full proposal here: Montana’s Constitutional Amendment 118 (allowing the state legislature to set a legal age of 21 for the purchase and possession of cannabis)

Medical or adult use?

Adult use

What Initiative 190 would do

Montana’s Initiative 190 would legalize recreational marijuana in Montana, “establish a regulatory framework for cultivation and sales,” and tax it at a rate of 20%.

What Constitutional Initiative 118 would do

Montana’s Constitutional Initiative 118 (CI-118) sets the legal age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing marijuana at 21.

Why are two initiatives necessary?

I-190 and CI-118 are not opposing or competing initiatives. They work in tandem.

Amendment 118 is a necessary partner to Initiative 190. I-190 legalizes the purchase of cannabis for all adults, but the Montana Constitution defines “adult” as an individual 18 years or older. To let state regulators to set a legal minimum age of 21 for cannabis, CI-118 would allow the establishment of a legal age of purchase by either the state legislature or via a voter initiative.

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What the latest polls say

54% of Montanans support legalization, while 37% are opposed (University of Montana Big Sky Poll, Feb. 2020).

Legalization initiative sponsors

Legalization initiative opponents

  • No one has officially filed as an opponent, but Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton and Attorney General Tim Fox are both opposed to legalization.

Would cannabis stores be licensed?

Yes, by the Montana Department of Revenue, the agency that would be assigned to regulate legal cannabis sales statewide.

There are no limitations on the number of licenses contained in the two initiatives, but there’s also nothing that would prohibit the state legislature and/or regulatory agency from establishing limits on the number of licenses issued.

For the first year of the adult-use program, currently licensed Montana medical marijuana providers would be first in line for recreational retail licenses.

Would marijuana be taxed?

Yes, there would be a 20% excise tax at the point of retail purchase.

Medical marijuana is currently taxed at 4%. Montana does not have a general retail sales tax.

5 things to know about Montana’s I-190 and CI-118

  • 10.5% of the retail cannabis tax revenue goes to the state general fund, with the remaining 89.5% dedicated to accounts for conservation programs, substance abuse treatment, veterans’ services, healthcare costs, and localities where marijuana is sold.
  • I-190 prohibits an adult-use store from advertising the prices of their products—or to solicit business—via its own website.
  • The state adult-use cannabis regulatory program (via the Department of Revenue) must begin accepting and issuing licenses by October 1, 2021.
  • An individual currently sentenced on charges “permitted by I-190” may apply for resentencing or an expungement. Individuals who have already completed such a sentence can petition to have their records expunged, or have their convictions redesignated as a misdemeanor.
  • Homegrow of “four mature marijuana plants and four seedlings” is permitted under the initiative.

Current cannabis law in Montana

Montana first enacted its medical marijuana program in 2004. Since then, the program has largely existed in a state of flux and chaos. Earlier this year, the state finally ended its “tethering” policy, which prohibited patients from purchasing from more than one licensed medical marijuana provider.

As of July 2020, there were roughly 33,000 registered patients in the state and about 235 dispensaries.

Despite the long-established legality of medical marijuana, non-patients still face draconian consequences for possession. A first offense for 60g (a little over two ounces) or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine. A second offense can land you in jail for 3 years. Possession of more than 60g is a felony punishable by up to five years in jail or a $50,000 fine. Selling or cultivating non-medical cannabis is also a felony in Montana.

The state’s USDA-approved program for hemp production will be implemented on November 1, 2020.

Quotes from advocates

  • “We’re facing the greatest recession of our lives. In Montana we don’t have a sales tax. We have an increasing population, decreasing natural resource revenue. There was a [shortfall] in the budget before the coronavirus. What other source of revenue are they gonna have?…We have an evolved populace that knows it’s not the devil’s lettuce, especially after being exposed to Montana’s medical marijuana market. Now it’s an essential item. That speaks to the change in the conversation we’ve been having since the coronavirus.” Pepper Petersen, Political Director, New Approach Montana
  • “Many, including veterans in our state, are still unable to access [the] medical marijuana program because of federal rules governing the VA. Furthermore, we believe no adult should be treated as a criminal for responsibly consuming a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. We also support taxing marijuana sales to provide funding for health care, education, infrastructure, and conservation.” New Approach Montana website

Quotes from opponents

  • “When you take somebody’s life on the roadway because you’re under the influence of anything, that is a homicide. You are killing someone else. If we increase the number of people that are driving impaired on the roads in the state of Montana, we are going to increase homicide.” Sgt. Kurt Sager, Montana Highway Patrol (speaking of a previous legalization bill)
  • “I personally believe marijuana is a gateway drug…Heaven forbid we ever have recreational use.”Montana Attorney General Tim Fox

Register to vote and donate to Montana’s legalization initiative

Support Montana’s legalization initiative by donating to New Approach Montana.

Read more about Montana on Leafly

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Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.
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