Montana lawmakers pass HB 701 to legalize adult cannabis

Montana lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday to implement the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana as voted by voters in November’s elections. Measure HB 701 was passed 67-32 by the Montana House of Representatives, having previously been approved by the Senate. The bill now goes to the office of Republican Governor Greg Gianforte, who is expected to sign the legislation.

House Bill 701 implements Initiative 190, an adult cannabis legalization measure passed by Montana voters in last year’s general election. The measure is one of three bills implementing Initiative 190 that were approved by Parliament earlier this month.

HB 701 almost failed before the passage

Only House Bill 701 was approved by the Senate, but only after a major change in the upper legislature. Republicans in the House of Representatives rejected the amended version in a vote on Monday, in part on sharing cannabis taxes on conservation efforts under Initiative 190.

At this point, the bill was about to be assigned to a conference committee where House and Senate lawmakers would address differences in their respective versions of the legislation. However, Rep. Mike Hopkins, the sponsor of HB 701, was able to convince his Republicans to bring the measure back to the floor for another vote.

On Tuesday the bill was presented for a second reading. Prior to the vote, Hopkins reminded Republicans that the original language of Initiative 190 would become state law by default if lawmakers did not pass the measure.

“We have to do this before we leave this building. If we don’t, we will regret it, ”said Hopkins. “When we got to this session, we weren’t asked to find out whether or not marijuana should be legal – it has already been done – but we were asked to figure out how to make it safe.”

“We’ll be leaving this session after we deliver something to the people of Montana that works,” added Hopkins.

After the vote, Hopkins said that while he understands the concerns of his colleagues in continuing to work on the bill, he believes HB 701 is the best bill and rejecting the Senate amendments would have been a mistake.

“The ramp we have until the end of the legislature, the work the Senate had already done, and the agreements they had already reached meant that sending this bill back to a conference committee would not kill it immediately, but would go as far as you can to kill it without killing it, ”said Hopkins. “It was a bad idea.”

HB 701 makes major changes to the voter initiative

House Bill 701 significantly changes the legal framework established under Initiative 190. Under the measure passed by the legislature, existing medical marijuana suppliers can apply for licenses to sell cannabis for adult use. Legal sales of recreational marijuana are slated to begin on January 1, 2022. The regulated market is limited to currently licensed providers for the first 18 months. Home growing would be allowed with a limit of two plants per adult or four plants per household.

Pepper Petersen, President and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild, said the final calculation was not perfect, but “we can work with it.” Noah Marion, the director of state policy for the Montana Wilderness Association, praised the allocation of tax revenue to environmental efforts.

“The passage of House Bill 701 is not just a victory for Montana’s state parks, hiking trails, public access, work land and living space,” said Marion. “It is a historic investment in the future of communities across the state and a commitment to preserving our outdoor lifestyle for generations to come. We encourage Governor Gianforte to sign the law immediately. “

A spokesman for Gianforte told reporters on Tuesday that the governor “has been encouraged by the progress of HB 701 and will carefully examine the bill when it reaches his desk”.

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