Over 100 days ago, the citizens of Montana voted to pass the Marijuana Legalization Initiative (I-90), but businesses across Montana are still unable to grow and market recreational cannabis. 

“Recreational Cannabis Implementation hit its first bump in the road Wednesday [Dec. 30, 2020] as lawmakers turned down the revenue department's $1.35 million funding request to get the licensing program off the ground,” reporter Seaborn Larson wrote for the Independent Record (published Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021). When presented to the Montana House Appropriations Committee, this egregiously large sum stopped the forward momentum of marijuana licensing in its tracks. During commentary on the issue, state legislator Bill Mercer (R-Billings) called the appropriations request a “huge tranche of money” and proposed an amendment to the funding request. The successful amendment removed the Appropriations Committee’s ability to appeal for funding, leaving licensing for marijuana businesses sorely lacking funding. 

The $1.35 million was designed to supply salaries for 20 full-time employees, office equipment and general operating expenses to get the state’s recreational cannabis licensing office up and running. Even if the funding had been granted, the office of licensing would still not be open to accepting applications until Oct. 2021 and would not allow the commercial sale of cannabis until Jan. 2022. This glaring denial of funding, coupled with the substantial delay in licensing is a complete usurpation of our voting rights.

The Exponent had the opportunity to get the opinion of then-candidate Greg Gianforte on the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the 2020 election. “The question is on the ballot, and Montanans will decide it,” Gianforte said in a written response to a questionnaire. Governor Gianforte has thoroughly contradicted the promise he made to Montanans the moment he took his oath of office. Montanans deserve to be heard, not disregarded. 

There is a clear solution to this violation of rights. The state should remove the required licensing for Montana businesses, thus eliminating the excessive state funding needed. The lack of licensing would give small Montana businesses a much-needed edge against the harsh realities of the current economic climate. In a time where Montana businesses are struggling the most, this delay is less than helpful. 

Whether it’s medicinal or recreational, we should air on the side of independence from licensing. Recreational cannabis is currently taxed at 20% and the revenue generated by small businesses across the state would boost the state economy and pad the legislative budget. The legislature needs to hold up its end of the bargain. The state offered the initiative and they should move it forward without delay.