This fall, Montanans will have the opportunity to vote to turn the state “green.” MontanaCan and Coalition 406 submitted The Marijuana Regulation Act to the Montana Legislature at 4:20 p.m. on June 28, 2019. Two proposed ballot measures, funded and lobbied for by MontanaCan or Coalition 406, would legalize recreational marijuana in the state, making Montana the 12th state to do so. While they are similar initiatives, MontanaCan’s would set the legal age to 18 and tax marijuana at 5%, while Coalition 406 would legalize for those over 21 and put a 20% tax on recreational purchases. The two lobbyists believe Montana’s status as a politically-purple state gives hope that a large amount of blue-swinging voters will support legalization. While many conservative voters may try to disrupt the ballot’s passing, the state has the potential to reap huge rewards from legalizing marijuana. All should vote “yes” this fall in support of Montana’s economy and citizens’ health.

Recreational marijuana has many potential economic and health benefits. Economic gains include a large source of tax revenue and new jobs in sales and cultivation. Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational use in 2014, and the state has since seen tax revenue upwards of $1 billion from marijuana sales and growing operations. Called “America’s hidden job boom,” the federal government does not officially record those who support their families with legal cannabis jobs. However, Leafly and Whitney Economics spent three months on the 2019 Cannabis Jobs count recording jobs, salaries, and industry growth across the nation. The study found that legal cannabis has created approximately 211,000 full-time jobs, which makes the marijuana industry a leader in job creation in the U.S. in 2019.

Aside from economic gains, marijuana and its CBD derivatives have been labeled as major health aids. They are used for treatment of chronic pain, epilepsy, PTSD, anxiety and depression. Coalition 406 hopes that these medical benefits will help gain the vote of Montana veterans. Currently, veterans are denied medical marijuana because of their affiliation with the Veterans Administration. Since marijuana is still a federally-controlled substance, doctors at the VA are prohibited from prescribing marijuana to patients. MontanaCan is also pushing marijuana as a proponent of health and safety, as legalization is assumed to decrease black market sales that may be laced with other, more harmful drugs.

Despite its economic and medicinal benefits, legalizing marijuana in Montana remains an extremely controversial issue. A University of Montana study found only 50.5% of 293 people surveyed supported full legalization, while 37.4% completely opposed it. Many in opposition cite religious issues and societal costs such as increased DUIs as reasons to hold off on legalization. The Colorado Department of Public Safety found that increased emergency room visits, mandatory addiction treatments, and DUI accidents are just some of the societal costs that coincide with legalization.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement following Canadian legalization, saying, “With the exception of cannabis use for medicinal purposes, consuming marijuana violates the virtue of temperance and should be avoided.” The group cited Ephesians 5:18, which reads “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” This verse has been used to classify any form of over-intoxication a sin. Therefore, marijuana use and its following THC “high” are often reprimanded by some churches. 

Although moral conflicts and societal concerns may advise some not to take part in the use of marijuana, the majority of Montanans could benefit from legalization. While religious issues affect roughly 38.7% of adults in Montana, the economic benefits would apply to all 1.062 million Montana citizens. Increased tax revenue could be used to improve infrastructure or crack down on the reported consequences of legalization. Jobs in the marijuana industry could employ some of the nearly 36,000 unemployed Montanans. Montana’s veteran population of almost 100,000 should also have the choice to benefit from marijuana’s medicinal qualities.

Montanans should legalize marijuana for its myriad of economic and medical benefits. The nation as a whole is slowly moving toward total legalization, and Montana as a purple state has the great opportunity to continue blazing the trail for federal acceptance of marijuana as a beneficial drug with far fewer side effects than pharmaceuticals. This fall, vote “yes” and do your part to turn Montana “green.”

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