HELENA, Mont. — Recreational cannabis sales launched in Montana in January 2022. A year later, lawmakers have advanced a handful of bills to further regulate the burgeoning industry. The bills — all introduced by Republican lawmakers — restrict marijuana businesses’ ability to advertise, mandate warning labels for pregnant women and require cultivators to limit the odor of cannabis near grow facilities.
Committees tabled three bills of note: one to remove taxes on medical marijuana, one to require further distance between new cannabis businesses and schools and places of worship, and another to prevent the state from keeping public information on individuals with expunged cannabis-related charges.
Here’s where those bills stand at the transmittal break.
BANNING BUSINESSES FROM ADVERTISING
Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings, introduced House Bill 351 in late January. In its initial form, the bill called for a blanket ban on marijuana businesses’ ability to advertise. The ban included outdoor signage, radio, TV or any print media. The bill did permit businesses to advertise via their own website or various national listing services.
Seekins-Crowe framed the bill as a way to solidify the intention of last session’s House Bill 701, the cannabis legalization framework passed by the 2021 Legislature.
Current rules put in place by the state Department of Revenue, however, permit businesses to advertise their brands, though they’re not allowed to advertise specific products.
The bill resulted in a heated hearing. Two dozen representatives of the cannabis industry and media organizations opposed it, while only two individuals — both associated with the anti-recreational cannabis group Safe Montana — spoke in its favor.
On March 3, the House advanced an amended version of the bill that permits outdoor signage on a vote of 63-35.
ODOR CONTROL FOR CANNABIS GROWERS
Rep. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, sponsored House Bill 304, which passed out of the House on a vote of 80-19. The bill requires cannabis growers to install a “properly operating air filtration system” or other “odor neutralization system.” If passed, the bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. It provides businesses with a three-month grace period to implement the necessary systems.
The bill initially required grow facilities to be “ventilated so that the odor of marijuana cannot be detected by a person with a normal sense of smell” outside of the facility, but that language was removed via amendment.
The House Business and Labor Committee opted instead for a policy employed in Colorado that sets a threshold of one volume of odorous air per seven volumes of odor-free air. Officials can measure odorous air with equipment such as the Nasal Ranger.
Opponents of the bill argued in a hearing that the onus of regulation should fall on local governments and that agriculture is inherently smelly. Business owners also pointed out that they had already sought and received approval for their operations.
WARNING LANGUAGE FOR PREGNANT WOMEN
Rep. Jane Gillette, R-Bozeman, sponsored House Bill 611, which requires cannabis packaging to include warnings directed specifically at pregnant women. If enacted, the bill would go into effect on July 1, 2024.
During a House Business and Labor Committee hearing held Feb. 27, no proponents spoke in favor of HB 611. Several representatives of the cannabis industry spoke against it, arguing that Gillette cited unfounded science in her testimonial support of the bill.
Gillette did not respond to a request for comment from MTFP seeking details on the studies she referenced during her testimony.
The bill passed out of the House on a vote of 73-25.
CRIMINALIZING THE SALE OF HEMP-DERIVED CANNABINOIDS TO MINORS
Sen. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls, sponsored Senate Bill 471, which would criminalize the sale of various hemp-derived cannabinoids and kratom to minors.
Hemp-derived cannabinoids act similarly to Delta-9 THC, the primary active compound in cannabis. Such cannabinoids — like Delta-8 THC, HHC and Delta-10 THC — can be created from CBD that has in turn been extracted from federally legal hemp. Retailers can sell products in a variety of forms, including gummies, vape cartridges and beverages.
The bill similarly bans the sale of kratom to minors. Kratom is a substance derived from a tree of the same name that can reportedly simulate the effects of an opioid or stimulant.
The bill advanced out of the Senate on a vote of 46-4.
DRUG SCREENING FOR DRIVERS
Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, sponsored Senate Bill 13, a clean-up bill that clarifies that law enforcement may use blood or oral fluid tests on drivers who are suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana and other drugs.
Kate Cholewa of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association opposed the bill during a hearing, and argued that the tests in question are not reliable. Another opponent, Merilee Watne, noted that THC, the active compound in marijuana, can remain in the human body for several weeks after consumption. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 49-0.
TABLED: REMOVING MEDICAL TAX AND EXPUNGEMENT BILL
A handful of cannabis-related bills were tabled in committee during the first half of the 2023 session.
House Bill 420 would have eliminated both the state tax on medical marijuana and any local-option taxes on medical marijuana. Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, introduced the bill.
House Bill 673, also sponsored by Hopkins, would have removed personal and legal information related to cases where individuals had a marijuana-related charge expunged from any “publicly available internet website.”
House Bill 265, sponsored by Rep. Tanner Smith, R-Lakeside, would have increased the required distance between a new cannabis business and public spaces like churches or schools from 500 feet to 1,000 feet.
Beyond the aforementioned bills, lawmakers will continue to debate the allocation of marijuana revenue in the second half of the legislative session.
House Bill 462 is being carried by Rep. Marta Bertoglio, R-Montana City, but comes from the governor’s office. That bill would redistribute tax revenue generated by Montana’s cannabis industry: it eliminates an estimated annual $8-$9 million for the Habitat Montana conservation program and puts more funds toward various law enforcement initiatives. The House Appropriations Committee heard the bill in February, but has not yet taken executive action on it. Cannabis sales have generated $50 million in tax revenue since January 2022.
Lawmakers will also consider House Bill 128, a clean-up bill crafted by the Economic Affairs Interim Committee. The bill clarifies tribes’ access to licenses — a point of contention during the legislative interim — and puts testing laboratories under the purview of the state Department of Revenue. The labs are currently overseen by the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
MAX SAVAGE LEVENSON
Max Savage Levenson is a Missoula-based reporter on the cannabis beat. He is the founder of Montana Cannabis Weekly, a newsletter covering the state industry. His writing on cannabis and pop culture has appeared in outlets including Pitchfork, NPR's All Songs Considered, Leafly, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Reason. More by Max Savage Levenson