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huckleberry strain medical marijuana buds

A jar of huckleberry strain medical marijuana buds.

BUTTE – A Helena legislator introduced a bill Thursday that would create a committee to study the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana in Montana for presentation to the 2019 Legislature.

House Joint Resolution 35, introduced by Rep. Mary Dunwell, D-Helena, would request the legislative committee, which oversees interim committees to form one to “examine the legalization, regulation, taxation, and public health and safety aspects of recreational marijuana in Montana.”

According to the proposed legislation, the interim committee would examine whether the state’s liquor control system would make a good model, how legalization would affect the state’s medical marijuana program, and how legalization in other states has affected tax revenues, spending on public health and safety and child drug use.

The study would be completed by Sept. 15, 2018, and include input from the Departments of Public Health and Human Services, Justice, Revenue and Agriculture, as well as local police, the district courts, schools and lobbying groups. Committees often propose legislation based on the result of their studies.

Dunwell said marijuana legalization is not a question of if but when, and that taking the time between sessions to get the science ready for whenever the day comes is smarter than trying to cram legalization through a 90-day session.

“You don’t have time to do good research,” Dunwell said.

If HR 35 passes, House and Senate leaders on the bipartisan Legislative Council will appoint an interim committee which will meet for 20 months between the 65th and 66th sessions – that is if legislators vote the bill as one of the top 20 proposed interim committees.

Legislation creating 40 other interim committees has already been introduced, with another several dozen unintroduced proposals languishing in various draft states.

While the state’s medical marijuana industry does not oppose Dunwell’s resolution, it doesn’t see it as its fight.

The lobbyist group for Montana’s medical marijuana growers and providers, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, has not prioritized legalizing recreational marijuana for the legislative session.

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Embroiled in a five-year lawsuit to preserve patient access to medical marijuana that ended with a citizens’ initiative in the 2016 election and further court battles, the MTCIA 2017 legislative agenda is to solidify the medical program.

Spokesperson Kate Cholewa said all the MTCIA’s energy now is behind passing Senate Bill 333, which would regulate the state’s medical marijuana program to be more in line with what’s seen in other states.

According to the MTCIA’s white paper on its 2017 legislative goals, building a better medical marijuana program is best done piecemeal. When medical marijuana was first legalized in 2004, some saw the law as lax, leading to abuse of the system and blowback in the form of the 2011 Legislature’s quasi-repeal.

While 2016’s I-182 restored access for patients, the program itself isn’t that efficient of a machine, and SB 333 adds provisions like seed-to-sale tracking and defining marijuana cultivation caps by canopy size, not plant quantity, the paper said.

“Despite some problematic holdovers from the 2011 law, the initiative’s provisions can maintain the program. However, we do not wish to see the same mistakes made in 2017 that were made in 2011 and the years leading up to it,” the paper read.

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