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Marijuana legalization opponents challenge recently-passed Montana initiative

Posted at 7:08 PM, Nov 06, 2020

The group that opposed Montana’s marijuana legalization measures is now suing to overturn one of those measures.

Wrong for Montana and its treasurer, Steve Zabawa of Billings, filed a complaint in District Court in Helena this week. They are challenging Initiative 190, arguing it is unconstitutional because it appropriates state money through a ballot measure.

I-190 sets up a legal framework for recreational marijuana sales in Montana, including a 20% tax. It would place sales tax revenue into a new state account, then redirect it to a number of other programs, including conservation efforts, veterans’ services, health care worker salaries and substance abuse treatment. Some public lands groups and other organizations supported the measure based on that funding.

Zabawa claims I-190 should be “void in its entirety” because the state constitution says a ballot initiative can’t appropriate money. In a statement, he accused proponents of “misleading the Montana Voter to think that the Vets and their family and fish and wildlife department will get a huge chunk of the pot tax revenues. This is not a suggestion, but a lie.”

Before the election, Zabawa asked the Montana Supreme Court to invalidate I-190 for the same reason. The court declined to hear the case, saying the issue should go through a lower court first.

Montana voters approved I-190 in this week’s election, 57% to 43%. Its companion measure, Constitutional Initiative 118 – which allows the state to limit marijuana sales to those 21 and older – passed 58% to 42%.

Pepper Petersen is the founder and political director of New Approach Montana, the committee that backed I-190 and CI-118. In a statement, he pointed to the wide support the measures received and said a “frivolous lawsuit” should not delay the implementation of the measures.

“If Steve Zabawa is unhappy about how tax revenue from eventual marijuana sales is used, then he can wait until the legislature acts in the coming months,” Petersen said. “But his lawsuit today is baseless and certainly premature."