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Montana Lawmakers Finalize Marijuana Regulatory Framework, Send To Governor

Mike Hopkins speaks into a microphone in the state capitol building.
Montana Public Affairs Network
Montana Republican Rep. Mike Hopkins discusses House Bill 701 on April 27, 2021.

After extensive deliberation, a sweeping framework to regulate recreational marijuana sales in Montana is heading to the governor’s desk. Lawmakers passed the policy despite continued division among Republicans over what the program should look like.

The House pushed the bill over the finish line in the session’s waning days without support from many of the Republican caucus’ most conservative lawmakers.

Missoula Republican Rep. Mike Hopkins warned colleagues that inaction would lead to the state continuing to operate under rules from the adult-use cannabis ballot initiative approved in November.

“We really need to have this in place as we walk out of this building,” Hopkins said.

Some Republican lawmakers took issue with the policy’s 20% sales tax on recreational marijuana, fearing it would turn customers toward the black market.

Billings Republican Rep. Bill Mercer said allowing a local-option marijuana sales tax at the county level could also provide ammunition to eventually propose a wider sales tax, which has long been a hot-button issue in Montana.

“This was the day that we opened the door to this new tax that will find its way into communities as that argument gets traction. And we will rue the day that we did this,” Mercer said.

During a press conference, House GOP spokesperson Dylan Klapmeier acknowledged varying Republican viewpoints on regulating cannabis, and said lawmakers will continually address the program in coming sessions.

“It’s like, prohibition ended in the 1930s but we’re still tweaking our alcohol laws every single session,” Klapmeier said.

If signed into law, Montana’s adult-use cannabis program goes into effect January 1, 2022. The substance is currently legal to use for people 21 and older.

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