Trying to get ahead of an expected citizen-driven ballot initiative in 2020 to legalize recreational marijuana, a lawmaker is asking for the Legislature to study the issue.
In 2004 voters passed an initiative to allow medical marijuana in the state. In 2011 the Legislature put restrictions on the program, which drastically reduced the number of medical marijuana cardholders. The 2017 Legislature then enacted a tax on gross sales, as well as a seed-to-tracking system and limits on the number of plants and usable marijuana.
Sen. Diane Sands, a Democrat from Missoula, said the Legislature was caught unprepared to respond to a voter-passed medical marijuana program and she doesn't want to see that happen if voters pass a referendum allowing recreational marijuana in 2020.
"It gives us the opportunity to get ahead of an issue instead of waiting and reacting," Sands said. "I fully expect that legalization will be on the 2020 ballot by an initiative."
Voters can get initiatives on the ballot with signatures obtained from 5 percent of the total number of qualified voters in Montana, which must include 5 percent of voters in 34 House districts. That's meant to show broad support from around the state instead of gathering enough signatures in a few large cities.
Kate Cholewa with the Montana Cannabis Industry Association said she wants to see a study.
"The importance of state agencies learning about this issue if they are going to be regulators of this issue is critical," she said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee did not take immediate action on the study resolution. Interim study resolutions that pass the Legislature are ranked by lawmakers in order of priority.
Ten states have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults, including Washington state and Colorado.