House Committee Tables Recreational Marijuana Bill

Mar 28, 2019

State legislators tabled a bill Thursday that would have legalized recreational marijuana.

House bill 770 would have legalized possession, use, purchase and transportation of 2 ounces of marijuana or 16 grams of extracts for people 18 years and older.

Bill sponsor Representative Tom Winter, a Democrat from Missoula, said at his bill’s first hearing Thursday it’s likely legalization will come up as a ballot initiative in 2020.

"We need to make sure that we're bringing something where we've learned from other states, we’ve learned from the prohibition of the product and we make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep out citizenry safe," Winter said.

Winter estimates tax revenue could have generated $35 to $55 million annually. Those funds would be allocated to public schools, mental health treatment and education, alcohol and drug prevention, and law enforcement. A fiscal note was not available Thursday.

The bill would have expunged previous criminal convictions pertaining to marijuana and dismissed pending charges.

Four people spoke in favor of the bill.

Four others representing law enforcement agencies and the state Department of Justice spoke against it.

"This bill is an experiment on a very grand scale with unknown consequences and we don’t have a way to measure the impact it's going to have on our state," said Montana Highway Patrol Lieutenant Jim Sanderson.

Members of the House Taxation Committee agreed more discussion and study on the topic is needed before voting 12 to 6 to table the measure.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, though it remains a federally banned substance. Montana currently runs a medical marijuana program.