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Second committee files proposed Montana marijuana legalization initiative

Posted at 6:37 PM, Jan 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-30 20:37:16-05

A second committee seeking to legalize marijuana in Montana has introduced its updated draft ballot initiative.

The group MontanaCan submitted the revised draft to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office last week – replacing the committee’s original proposal, which had been submitted last summer. It comes just over a week after another group, New Approach Montana, filed its own proposed legalization initiatives.

Erica Siate, MontanaCan’s executive director, said the group formulated this draft after seeing New Approach’s plan. She said they worked with current marijuana providers in Montana and advocates in other states when putting it together.

“I’m just trying to make sure that the cannabis community is represented and has another option,” she said.

One of the biggest differences between MontanaCan’s proposal and New Approach’s plan is in the minimum age to purchase and use marijuana. MontanaCan would set the age to 18, instead of 21. That differs from most other states that have legalized marijuana.

Siate said the original draft set the minimum age at 19. However, legal analysts say a provision in the Montana Constitution that says an 18-year-old is “an adult for all legal purposes” would have to be amended to raise the age any higher than 18.

New Approach has proposed two separate initiatives – a statutory measure to legalize marijuana for those 21 and older and a constitutional amendment to give the state authority to raise the minimum age.

Siate said MontanaCan instead decided to focus its resources on a single initiative. She said the Montana Legislature could raise the minimum age later if it chose.

“Personally, I don’t feel that the age change belongs in the Constitution, and I do believe that adults are adults at 18,” Siate said.

MontanaCan’s draft also sets a 5% tax on recreational marijuana sales and eliminates the 2% tax on medical marijuana. That contrasts with New Approach, which would implement a 20% tax on recreational marijuana and leave the medical marijuana tax at 1%.

Siate said her group’s initial draft proposed a 15% tax on recreational marijuana, but they reconsidered. She said the people she has talked to support a single-digit tax rate, and that the MORE Act, a federal bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the national level, calls for a 5% tax on marijuana products.

“It made me go, ‘Why are we looking at giving three or four times that to the state?’” she said.

In a number of other aspects, MontanaCan’s proposed initiative puts fewer restrictions on marijuana use than New Approach’s. It would allow people to possess more marijuana, prevent local governments from banning certain categories of marijuana businesses and expunge many non-violent drug-related crimes from people’s records.

MontanaCan’s draft is currently going through a series of legal reviews with the state. If it is approved, the committee will have to collect at least 25,468 signatures to get the initiative onto the November ballot.

New Approach’s statutory initiative would also require at least 25,468 signatures to qualify, and the constitutional amendment would need double that amount.

Pepper Petersen, New Approach Montana’s political director, told MTN his group questioned whether MontanaCan’s proposal could win support on the ballot.

“Our polling reflects the only way this is going to pass is if it’s 21 and over – period,” he said.

Siate said the signature-gathering process will give both groups the opportunity to make the case that their initiative is the best vehicle to put marijuana legalization before Montana voters.

“It’s going to be a great discussion from here on out with the public,” she said. “That’s what’s exciting to me, is that the voters can decide.”