BY JONATHON AMBARIAN
A committee seeking to legalize marijuana in Montana has formally submitted two proposed initiatives it is trying to get onto the November ballot.
On Monday, New Approach Montana filed the text of their initiatives with the Montana Secretary of State’s Office.
Pepper Petersen, New Approach Montana’s political director, said the group’s leaders have been meeting with people across the state to determine what the legalization effort should look like.
“This is a Montana initiative – Montana marijuana legalization, made in Montana,” he said.
New Approach’s first proposal, a statutory initiative, is around 25,000 words long. It lays out the legal framework for a recreational marijuana system.
The proposal would allow people 21 and over to possess up to 1 ounce of most marijuana products, or 8 grams of marijuana concentrate. It allows them to use marijuana – except in public areas – and to grow up to four mature plants and four seedlings, if they are kept in a locked space not visible from public areas.
The initiative would create licenses for “adult-use dispensaries,” which could sell marijuana, edibles and other products. It would also set a 20% tax on all recreational marijuana sales, but reduce the tax on medical marijuana sales from 2% to 1% starting in 2021.
“First and foremost, it’s going to offer Montanans a little more freedom,” said Petersen. “That’s part of the ethos of Montana, is that we’re free and that as adults, we can make decisions on our own.”
Petersen said much of the structure of the recreational marijuana system would come from Montana’s current medical marijuana laws. Like the current medical system, the initiative calls for regular required inspections, a production license that allows a certain amount of growing canopy and a tracking system for all marijuana sold.
“Nothing’s going to be surprising there,” Petersen said. “The same rules apply that applied before, for the most part. We’re just opening up the system for adults 21 and over.”
In contrast with the statutory initiative, New Approach’s second initiative is just two words. It would amend the state constitution to give the state authority to raise the minimum age to purchase marijuana.
The constitution says anyone 18 or older is “an adult for all purposes,” and Petersen said New Approach believes this amendment is the only way to limit recreational marijuana to 21-year-olds.
“I’m very committed to 21 and over,” he said. “Recent studies have shown when you have a tightly regulated marijuana market, you can keep marijuana away from teenagers.”
New Approach leaders say they will campaign for both measures to make the November ballot, and for voters to back both.
“Hopefully people understand the fact that these are two complementary initiatives and that they work together in concert,” Petersen said. “If they do that, I think they’ll be very supportive of our approach and they’ll vote yes on both.”
The two initiatives must now go through a series of legal reviews with the state. If they receive approval from the Secretary of State and Attorney General’s offices, Petersen said New Approach could be cleared to start gathering signatures by the spring. It will take at least 25,468 signatures to get the statutory initiative onto the ballot, and at least 50,936 to qualify the constitutional amendment.
You can find links to the full draft text of the proposed initiatives at New Approach Montana’s website .
Another committee, MontanaCan, also submitted a proposed initiative to legalize marijuana in the state. Erica Siate, who leads that group, told MTN her main disagreement with New Approach’s proposal is the tax rate. Her group’s initial draft proposed a 15% tax on recreational marijuana, but she said they have reconsidered that and may resubmit the draft with an even lower rate.
Siate said the MORE Act, a federal bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, calls for a 5% tax on marijuana products, and she questioned why a state tax should be that much higher than what federal leaders are looking at.
Siate also said MontanaCan’s draft will have a different framework for testing marijuana products, as she believes the current setup has not been effective.