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Opponents Mount Last Minute Challenge To Marijuana Legalization

Cannabis in jars. Stock photo.
Cannabis in jars. Stock photo.

Opponents of two ballot initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana sales to adults 21 and up in Montana are mounting a last-minute legal challenge to block the measures being voted on.

Initiative 190 establishes a 20-percent tax on nonmedical marijuana sales, with roughly half that revenue going to the state general fund. The proposal on the ballot sends the rest of the money to other accounts, including conservation programs, substance abuse treatment and veterans’ services.

And that, according to Steve Zabawa, is where 190 runs afoul of state law.

"In the Montana state Constitution, on a ballot initiative you can write law, whatever that ballot initiative may be – like legalizing marijuana in this case, but you cannot allocate or appropriate the revenue."

Zabawa is with Wrong for Montana, a group opposing both I-190 and its companion, CI-118, which amends the state Constitution to set the minimum buying age for cannabis at 21 years old.

The group says it will ask the Montana Supreme Court to remove both from the ballot. Absentee ballots were sent to voters on October 9. As of Thursday, nearly 90,000 Montanans had cast their votes. 

Pepper Peterson is a spokesman for New Approach Montana, which is leading the effort to legalize marijuana in the state. In an emailed statement to Montana Public Radio, Peterson says the ballot initiatives’ opponents are intentionally trying to cause confusion. 

Peterson adds, "These initiatives, which were filed in January, have already been vetted and approved by the Montana Attorney General. They are well written and closely follow existing Montana law."

Wrong for Montana’s recent push against the legalization of recreational marijuana has included a complaint filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices asking for one of New Approach Montana's major financial backers, North Fund, to disclose its donors.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.