Montana’s Marijuana Industry Dodges a Bullet: Senate Bill 546 Tabled

Montana’s marijuana industry recently celebrated a significant victory when Senate Bill 546 (SB 546) was tabled after a passionate hearing and a 6-4 vote by the Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee. Sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, the bill aimed to dismantle the state’s marijuana industry by eliminating adult-use dispensaries and imposing strict limitations on medical marijuana.

Had SB 546 been enacted, it would have drastically altered Montana’s marijuana industry by eliminating all adult-use dispensaries, raising the state tax on medical marijuana from 4% to 20%, and imposing significant limitations on medical marijuana potency and allowable possession amounts. Although the bill did not re-criminalize marijuana possession for adults, it sought to halve the number of plants an adult could grow at home from two mature plants to one.

The Committee’s decision to table the bill came after three Republican committee members — Senate President Jason Ellsworth, Committee Chair Jason Small, and Sen. Walt Sales — joined all three Democratic members in opposing the bill. Their unanimous decision was influenced by several factors, including concerns about marijuana potency, youth access, and respecting the will of Montana voters who had passed legalization initiative I-190 by a 57-43 margin in 2020.

Proponents of SB 546, such as Dr. Kevin Sabet, co-founder and president of the national anti-marijuana organization Safe Approaches to Marijuana, expressed concerns about the strength of marijuana concentrates, which often contain roughly 90% THC. The bill sought to lower the allowable amount of THC in medical marijuana flower from 35% to 10% and ban medical marijuana concentrates containing more than 10% THC. However, opponents of the bill argued that these limitations were unnecessary and would only serve to enable an illicit market.

During the hearing and committee meeting, several members expressed their unease with overturning the will of the voters. Sen. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, said, “I’m really nervous about undoing the people’s will. That really concerns me.” Kate Cholewa of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association also emphasized the importance of respecting voters’ voices, stating, “I just think it’s good not to make voters think that their voice doesn’t count. Then they really turn away from this whole process.”

With SB 546 now tabled, Montana’s marijuana industry can breathe a sigh of relief. However, the debate surrounding marijuana potency, youth access, and the role of the state in regulating the industry will likely continue. Although some committee members, including Committee Chairman Small, acknowledged support for certain aspects of the bill, they believed that it would take considerable time and effort to reshape it. As the state moves forward, stakeholders will need to work together to address these concerns while ensuring that the will of the voters is respected and the marijuana industry continues to thrive. (Source)

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