Montana Changes Its Marijuana Law

Map of Montana with cannabis leaf overlay

After several months of high-stake legislative drama, the adult-use cannabis bill was finally approved in Montana. With these new Montana marijuana laws, retail sales will start on the 1st of January, 2022.  The HB701 bill got signed into law by Montana Governor Greg Giaforte, which signified a huge triumph for cannabis reform.

The voting for Initiative 90, which occurred last November was pretty close at 57-43. Its approval will allow the sale of marijuana for adult use. Republican legislators who controlled both houses of the Legislature worked hard for several months so that they could replace the initiative with a version of their own. The initial draft they wrote was full of crippling restrictions, which were heavily amended by one of the Senate committees.

Applying for an adult-use license

With the passage of Initiative 90, starting on the 1st of January, 2022, it will become legal for adults in Montana to possess a maximum of 1 ounce of marijuana for their personal use. Since the Montana medical marijuana laws aren’t in effect yet, the only legal way for adults to obtain cannabis to use is to grow it themselves. Those who plan to travel to a state where it’s legal to purchase recreational marijuana should remember that they will break the law if they bring it back into Montana. A provision of I-190 states that residents may possess up to 4 marijuana plants for their personal use. This, however, will go down to 2 plants for each person and 4 plants for each household once HB710 goes into effect.

For people who don’t want to grow marijuana plants on their own and don’t have a medical marijuana card, they must wait until the 1st of January next year. On that date, medical dispensaries can legally sell marijuana to adults. HB701 will provide established providers of medical marijuana in Montana with a head start of 18 months on the market. Any dispensaries that aren’t established yet will not have an opportunity to apply for an adult-use license from the state until the 1st of July, 2023.

Financing the HEART Fund

Part of the agreements as stipulated in the new law that the tax revenues from marijuana product sales go to the financing of the HEART Fund, a program for drug treatment that diverts the money of the state to local nonprofits and organizations to provide services and care for victims of substance abuse.

Governor Gianforte released a statement regarding HB701 and the HEART Fund. According to the Governor, since January, they had focused on implementing the will of the voters of Montana in a responsible, appropriately regulated, and safe way. They will accomplish this through House Bill 701. From the beginning, Governor Giaforte had made it clear that they must bring more resources to fight the drug epidemic that is continuously devastating the state’s communities. Funding a program for substance abuse treatment and prevention for communities through the HEART Fund offers new support to the residents of Montana who would like to get sober, healthy, and clean.

A head start for the locals

To give the dispensaries in Montana a temporary advantage over the players out of the state, the new law will impose a moratorium of 18 months on all of the new licenses. When the moratorium expires, those who hold new licenses will only possess a small Tier-2 license. This will limit the number of marijuana plants that license holders can grow. As part of the Montana marijuana law repeal, holders of new licenses must also have a 1-year Montana residency before applying. With this restriction, nothing will stop out-of-town business owners from purchasing an existing business from one of the current Montana residents.

Pepper Peterson is one of the people who praised the passage of HB701. He is the same person who spearheaded the legalization campaign and right now, he is the CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild. He felt very pleased with how things turned out. Now, it’s an “even playing field” for everyone. Anyone from outside of Montana must go through the same process as the residents of the state.

On THC content and different licenses

The Montana law on marijuana also includes limitations on the THC of marijuana flowers. THC primarily is the psychoactive substance in cannabis that produces the feeling of getting high. The law specifies that THC found in marijuana flowers shouldn’t go above 35%, capsules or edibles shouldn’t contain more than 800 mg in each edibles package, and 100 mg of THC in each capsule.

Although these limitations are already specified in HB701, there is still a lot of work to do before implementing the law. According to Sanjay Talwani, the spokesperson of the Department of Revenue they must start working on the medical marijuana program starting the 1st of July, 2022. This is when the program will get transferred from the Department of Public Health and Human Resources along with some of its employees. Talwani also said that they’re still in the early stages of the program and that the department will issue 5 types of licenses, which are for manufacturing, cultivation, laboratory testing, transport, and sale.

It’s possible for one company to possess different types of licenses. On the other hand, the state will also issue 8 combined-use licenses to each of the federally recognized tribes in Montana. These are for the establishments of dispensaries owned by tribes with the condition that the tribes are in the county that voted in favor of I-190.

The big catch

There is one big catch to the licensing structure of the program that involves the counties that didn’t vote in support of Initiative 190. The people in these counties must first have a separate vote before opting-in to the program. This is a compromise from the original draft bill, which required all of the counties to opt-in and all businesses to acquire an arbitrary and vague “certificate of good standing” before getting a license. The tribal licenses have validity anywhere within 150 miles of a reservation’s exterior boundary. The advertising and packaging of cannabis also received significant limitations. A separate bill states that cannabis brands can only reach customers digitally, either through a cannabis site or through the shop’s official website.

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