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Bill to legalize marijuana introduced in Montana House

House Bill 770 calls for the legalization of marijuana in Montana. (NBC Montana photo)
House Bill 770 calls for the legalization of marijuana in Montana. (NBC Montana photo)
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Recreational marijuana could become legal in Montana if the state legislature approves it. Rep. Tom Winter (D-Missoula) introduced House Bill 770, which calls for legalization.

According to the bill, “the use of marijuana should be legal for persons 18 years of age or older.”

“Under this bill, the industry would be well regulated and built on the success and learn from the many, many failures of other states that have gone down this path,” Winter said.

The bill includes regulations on the sale of marijuana. Sellers and growers are required to have licenses, buyers must show ID in order to purchase marijuana products, marijuana products must be tested and labeled prior to sale, and high-concentration THC products are prohibited.

“All of my bill is based on not doing what Colorado did wrong,” Winter said.

Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2013. Since that time, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area has measured a 151-percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths. Compared to 2012, the 2016 yearly rate of marijuana-related hospitalizations increased by 148 percent, and 2016 saw a 52-percent increase in marijuana-related emergency department visits.

Montana Highway Patrol troopers expressed concern about the impact of marijuana on public safety.

“The last thing we need is more impaired drivers on the highways in the state of Montana,” MHP Sgt. Curt Sager said.

“I think we can expect more traffic deaths,” MHP Lt. Jim Sanderson said. “Any avoidable deaths should be avoided.”

Winter noted marijuana is already available on the black market, where it is not regulated and can be sold to people of all ages.

“We should shift that money into a regulated market that is not available to minors,” Winter said.

HB 770 calls for a 32-percent gross sales tax to marijuana retailers. Winter said it could net as much as $55 million for the state.

Counties and incorporated municipalities would have the abolition to opt in and legalize recreational marijuana. If they choose to legalize it, an up to 5-percent sales tax could be added.

“This bill has multiple layers of local control,” Winter said. “We know Montanans like that; we know that’s the right way to go.”

According to the Oregon Department of Revenue, the marijuana industry generated almost $10 million in state and local taxes in January alone.

From April 1 to June 30, 2018, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration said marijuana sales brought the state $74.2 million in taxes.

“Yes, you’ll see a small increase in revenue,” Sanderson said. “Is that enough to offset all the negative impact?”

Winter said he thinks legalization of marijuana will reach Montana, either by citizens’ initiative or a federal decision.

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“The thing I’m trying to do here is make sure that we have a Montana solution to what appears to be a national problem,” Winter said.

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