Lawmakers consider change to marijuana rules, penalties

By Elinor Smith | UM Legislative News Service, UM School of Journalism

HELENA — The House Business and Labor Committee is considering a series of bills that seek to clarify regulation of marijuana sales in Montana, addressing issues from medical versus recreational use to the smell of marijuana manufacturing. 

The most extensive bill heard at a committee meeting Feb. 1 is sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Fort Benton. House Bill 128 would clarify rules and penalties surrounding the sale of marijuana in Montana, switch laboratory regulation to the purview of the Department of Revenue and control the number of businesses open to the recreational market in Montana, along with other regulations. 

The 19 proponents of the bill said it was a great compromise between businesses and regulatory agencies. Pepper Petersen represented the Montana Cannabis Guild and he underscored that the bill was created in the interim with stakeholders.

“I really like most of this bill. We worked hard on it with the committee. We spent a lot of hours talking about these details,” Petersen said.  

There were six opponents of the bill, who said that HB 128, while well intentioned, could have unintended consequences. Most proponents of the bill also proposed amendments on the bill because the scope of its impacts are so broad. 

Maggie Bornstein spoke for the ACLU of Montana as an opponent of the bill, but only on the criminal penalties, which she said could be unfairly applied. 

“I think that’s not fair to assess the same penalties to somebody who is using drugs that — to have the same penalty adjacent to those who are illegally distributing drugs as an industry. And so for those reasons we are opposing,” Bornstein said. 

Two other bills heard by the committee Wednesday deal with the quality of laboratory tests on the safety of marijuana for public consumption and the effects of marijuana manufacturers have on the communities where they operate, specifically the smells they emit. 

The committee did not take immediate action on the bills. 

Elinor Smith is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.