In a move that could severely impact Montana’s budding cannabis industry, Republican Senator Keith Regier has presented a bill that would effectively dismantle the state’s recreational sales program just over a year after its launch.
The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 546, aims to curb adult-use dispensaries by enforcing stringent restrictions that would limit not only medical marijuana allowances but also eliminate recreational sales, as reported by the Montana Free Press.
Senate Bill 546
The proposed Senate Bill 546 could bring about a significant shift in Montana’s marijuana marketplace, with its primary focus being dismantling adult-use dispensaries. However, that’s not all – the bill also seeks to increase the state tax on medical marijuana by a whopping 400% while enforcing strict limits on potency and possession amounts for medical use.
While non-medical marijuana sales are prohibited under the bill, it doesn’t make adult possession illegal. Moreover, the bill would reduce the number of mature plants that adults can grow at home by half, from two to just one.
Despite several requests for comment, Regier, the sponsor of SB 546, remained unresponsive at the time of this writing. However, if the bill passes into law, it could considerably impact Montana’s cannabis businesses, resulting in a significant reduction in potential consumers and state revenue. The industry has contributed over $54 million in tax revenue to state coffers since the start of adult-use sales in January 2022, with less than one-tenth of that amount coming from medical marijuana taxes. Currently, recreational customers pay a 20% state tax, and some counties levy an additional 3% local tax.
The sales data indicates that under SB 546, the cannabis industry would have contributed just over $20 million in tax revenue, less than half of what it has generated so far. However, the potential consequences of the bill extend far beyond monetary losses. According to the owner of Montana Canna, Zach Block, a dispensary in Kalispell, the proposed legislation would render the entire cannabis program meaningless for operators, patients, and consumers alike, delivering a substandard product to a small group of people while ignoring the needs of the majority. Block shared these concerns with MTFP.
SB 546 also includes several provisions that restrict the potency of marijuana products under the medical program. While the current law prohibits the sale of flowers with more than 35% THC, the proposed bill would lower that limit to just 10%. Additionally, the bill halves the amount of permissible THC in edible products, from 10 milligrams to just 5 milligrams. Concentrated marijuana extracts would also be required to contain no more than 10% THC.
In addition to limiting the potency of medical marijuana products, SB 546 also restricts the amount of marijuana a medical patient can purchase. While current law allows patients to buy up to five ounces per month or equivalent in other forms like edibles and tinctures, the proposed bill would reduce this limit to just one ounce.
Recreational Cannabis Legalization in Montana
Montana joined Arizona and New Jersey in approving a ballot measure legalizing recreational cannabis during the November 2020 election cycle. Montana is now among the 14 states that have legalized the use of recreational marijuana, with the governor’s office and both legislative chambers being controlled by Republicans. This political configuration puts the fate of cannabis-related legislation in the hands of the GOP.
While the state has made significant progress in establishing a thriving cannabis industry, with more than 130 dispensaries currently operating across Montana, the recent introduction of SB 546 has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the industry’s future.
In January 2020, marijuana activists affiliated with New Approach Montana took a significant step towards legalizing cannabis in Montana by submitting Montana I-190. This ballot initiative sought to legalize the use of recreational marijuana in the state. The initiative gained traction, and on August 13, the state Secretary of State confirmed that it had qualified for the November ballot, paving the way for voters to have their say on the issue.
On November 3, 2020, Montana residents went to the polls and voted on I-190, ultimately passing the ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis in the state. The passage of I-190 marked a significant victory for marijuana advocates in Montana, who had been pushing for cannabis reform for many years. With the legalization of recreational cannabis, the state opened up new opportunities for cannabis businesses and entrepreneurs while providing greater access to cannabis products for adults who choose to use it.
As of January 1, 2021, individuals aged 21 or older can possess and utilize up to 28 grams, or one ounce, of marijuana. Nonetheless, consuming or holding the substance in public areas and specific specified locations remains prohibited, including federal lands and waters governed by federal law. This applies to both the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana.
Montana’s Medical Marijuana Program enables authorized providers to offer marijuana products to registered cardholders within the program. While cardholders can legally possess up to one ounce, or 28 grams, of marijuana, they are also permitted to purchase up to five ounces, or 140 grams, within 30 days. However, it is essential to note that distributing the substance to non-cardholders remains illegal.
Montana’s journey toward legalizing recreational marijuana has been a long and winding road. From the submission of the Montana I-190 ballot initiative to the passage of the bill in November 2020, the state has come a long way in terms of cannabis reform.
The passing of I-190 signaled a major shift in public opinion regarding marijuana use in Montana. It represented a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle for cannabis reform in the United States. While the introduction of SB 546 threatens to stifle the growth of the state’s cannabis industry, the progress made so far cannot be denied. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Montana’s cannabis industry, but one thing is for sure – the state’s residents have spoken.
The momentum toward legalizing recreational marijuana shows no signs of slowing down. As the debate over cannabis reform continues to rage across the country, Montana’s journey serves as a shining example of how change can be achieved through the power of the ballot box. (Full Story)