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Under Deadline, Montana House Passes Three Recreational Marijuana Bills to Senate

By United States Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Montana House has passed largely along party lines three different proposals to regulate and tax recreational marijuana. Lawmakers faced a looming procedural deadline Thursday and are now handing the policy debate over to the Senate.

Lawmakers expect major changes in the coming weeks on bills to shape Montana’s adult use cannabis regulations.

Missoula Republican Rep. Mike Hopkins is carrying one of the proposals.

“There is a good bit more to the story to be told,” Hopkins said.

A sticking point in the debate is how much to tax recreational cannabis, and how to spend the revenue.

Hopkins is proposing a 20% tax, with most dollars going to the state general fund, and smaller slices going to conservation programs and a proposed addiction and treatment program.

But other lawmakers say the Legislature shouldn’t stand up new programs with marijuana revenue. Kalispell Republican Rep. Derek Skees is offering a 15% tax option to fund state pensions.

“When you raise the tax really high on the bag of marijuana that the consumer is purchasing, they’ll immediately go buy it from the illicit market. Because they’re not going to pay that 20 to 25% markup,” Skees said.

A third proposal would tax wholesale cannabis sales, instead of retail, which sponsor and Missoula Republican Rep. Brad Tschida said would cut down on the state’s regulatory burden.

Missoula Democratic Rep. Katie Sullivan opposed all three Republican-sponsored bills, saying they don’t resemble the successful November recreational cannabis initiative that included significant funding for conservation, substance treatment programs and veterans services.

“We’ve made some pretty large changes that moved away from the will of the voters,” Sullivan says.

The Montana Constitution says ballot initiatives may not appropriate money.

The marijuana policy debate also features regulatory questions, like whether counties should be able to implement a local sales tax to fund management of the industry. Another point of contention: whether counties should have to opt in, or opt out of allowing recreational dispensaries in the area.

House lawmakers’ action on the cannabis bills Thursday fit into a larger push to move major policies to the Senate ahead of a transmittal deadline.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.