Montana’s secretary of state announced on Thursday that marijuana activists collected more than enough signatures to qualify two legalization measures for the November ballot.
One initiative, a statutory change, would create a system of legal cannabis access for adult-use. A separate constitutional amendment would ensure only those 21 and older can participate in the market.
If the statutory measure is approved by voters, possessing up to an ounce of cannabis would be allowed, and people could cultivate up to four plants and four seedlings at home.
The Montana Department of Revenue would be in charge of regulating the legal industry and would issue business licenses by January 1, 2022. Existing medical cannabis businesses would be first in line to enter the adult-use market.
There would be a 20 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana, while the tax on medical cannabis products would be reduced from two to one percent. Revenue from legal sales would go toward land, water and wildlife conservation programs, veteran services, substance misuse treatment, health care, local governments that allow cannabis businesses and the state general fund.
A fiscal note from the Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning estimates that legal cannabis retail taxes will generate $38.5 million a year by Fiscal Year 2025.
“Our research has always shown that a majority of Montanans support legalization, and now voters will have the opportunity to enact that policy, which will create jobs and generate new revenue for our state,” Pepper Petersen, a spokesperson for New Approach Montana, which organized the effort, said. “It also means that law enforcement will stop wasting time and resources arresting adults for personal marijuana possession, and instead focus on real crime.”
Under the separate amendment that also qualified for the ballot, the state constitution would be amended to clarify that a “person 18 years of age or older is an adult for all purposes, except that the legislature or the people by initiative may establish the legal age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing alcoholic beverages and marijuana.”
Montana voters approved a medical cannabis legalization initiative in 2004 and later passed a 2016 expansion measure.
For the current cycle, New Approach Montana submitted their petitions for the cannabis measures in June. Last month, the group announced that data from county officials indicated they would make the ballot.
The secretary of state made that official on Thursday by updating the status of both submitted initiatives on its tracking page to say they have been “certified to appear on the November 3, 2020 General Election Ballot.”
The statutory measure required 25,468 valid signatures to qualify, while the constitutional amendment needed 50,936 valid signatures.
Activists navigated a difficult path to the ballot amid the coronavirus pandemic. After stay-at-home mandates made petitioning virtually impossible, they unsuccessfully sued for the right to collect signatures electronically and to extend the deadline for submissions. The campaign later relaunched physical canvassing efforts effort in May with social distancing protocols in place.
“This is great news for Montana voters who will now have the opportunity to enact a marijuana legalization policy that will create jobs, generate revenue and allow law enforcement to focus on real crime,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which helped with the signature drive, said. “New Approach Montana’s signature drive was one of the most innovative ever seen, and its success is a testament to the strong existing support among Montana voters for marijuana policy reform.”
The Montana Democratic Party adopted a platform plank endorsing marijuana legalization in June.
Here’s a status update on other 2020 drug policy reform campaigns across the country:
A marijuana legalization measure in Arizona qualified for the November ballot this week after activists submitted 420,000 signatures.
The Washington, D.C. Board of Elections certified last week that activists submitted enough valid signatures to place a measure to decriminalize plant- and fungi-based psychedelics in the nation’s capital.
Oregon’s secretary of state confirmed last month that separate measures to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs while expanding treatment services will appear on the November ballot.
Organizers in Nebraska last month submitted 182,000 signatures in an attempt to put a medical marijuana measure on November’s ballot.
Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative were hoping to get a second wind after a federal judge said recently that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the other group last week, hopes are dashed.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, separate measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota marijuana legalization activists are shifting focus and will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.
Washington State activists had planned to pursue a drug decriminalization and treatment measure through the ballot, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, they announced last month that they will be targeting the legislature instead.
Read the Montana marijuana ballot initiatives below: