Recreational marijuana is now legal in Montana, and dispensaries are getting ready to open at the New Year. When that happens, people will be able to buy up to an ounce of marijuana in a flower form that contains no more than 35% of THC, or an edible or capsule with 100 milligrams of THC or less per dose. It’ll still be illegal to smoke in public places, and violators could face a $50 fine. It’s also illegal under federal law to bring the product across state lines.

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Medical marijuana is legal, so people could go to dispensaries if they have a medical card. Initiative 190 drafted rules for taxation and regulation of marijuana in Montana and was approved by voters, but is being replaced by a spruced-up version: HB-701

Cannabis Regulations Under House Bill 701

Until the clock chimes on January 01, 2022, adults 21 and older can grow their own marijuana, but can’t buy it. Currently, people can have up to four of their own cannabis plants, but that will dip down to two once HB-701 kicks into effect. That’s an updated Act that revised I-190, transferring oversight authority to the Department of Revenue.  HB-170 also creates a marijuana worker permit, provides a way for individual localities to implement an excise tax, makes a rulemaking authority, and creates a way for expungement of convictions of marijuana-related crimes that are no longer considered illegal.

Highway with American Rocky Mountain Landscape in Montana Source: Shutterstock
Once dispensaries do open, people who purchase cannabis will have to transport it unopened, in its original, secure packaging in the trunk of their car or a locked glove compartment. Anyone caught without their weed properly secured could face a $100 fine.  Individual counties can still opt out of recreational cannabis. The way HB-701 is set up, counties where the majority of people voted to legalize recreational marijuana might not actually have access to it within their local area – the county can still choose not to welcome dispensaries. Counties where people didn’t approve I-190 would have to go out of their way to opt in to join the market. Those that do get into the business will raise taxes for their local and state governments. Adult-use dispensaries have a 20% tax on the retail price of marijuana, on top of local taxes that counties can implement. Medical marijuana has a 4% tax. 

CBD Sales in Montana Dispensaries

Dispensaries in Montana are facing an unexpected hiccup, however. HB-701 prohibits license holders from growing or selling hemp. Since most CBD is derived from hemp, that means dispensaries aren’t able to sell cannabidiol products.  The law states it aims to draw a clear distinction between hemp and marijuana. In its definition of marijuana, it even specifies,  “The term does not include hemp, including any part of that plant, including the seeds and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis, or commodities or products manufactured with hemp, or any other ingredient combined with marijuana to prepare topical or oral administrations, food, drink, or other products.” In most states, CBD is allowed to be sold at dispensaries because of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp by removing it from the definition of marijuana. Before that bill went into law, the Controlled Substances Act lumped hemp in with its definition of cannabis. The Farm Bill pushed the Food and Drug Administration to regulate hemp instead, as long as products coming from that hemp contained less than 0.3% THC.

A tractor cultivating a hemp field Source: Shutterstock
“Marijuana and marijuana products are not agricultural products, and the cultivation, processing, manufacturing or selling of marijuana or marijuana products is not considered agriculture subject to regulation by the department of agriculture unless expressly provided,” Montana’s law stipulates.  That would also mean dispensaries in the Treasure State could be limited in which hybrid products they can sell. Many dispensaries carry products like edibles, vape cartridges, concentrates, oils, tinctures, and capsules that have some THC and some CBD. Those products would only be allowed in Montana if the CBD comes from a marijuana plant, rather than from hemp.  Because the ability to sell recreational marijuana under HB701 kicks in on January 01, 2022, that’s the same day the ban on hemp-based products will start. Dispensaries will have to get rid of their CBD products by then. Businesses that aren’t related to marijuana can still sell hemp products however, so they’d be able to carry CBD products. That means, in theory, a dispensary could open up a separate shop nearby for its items that contain CBD.

Cannabis Licenses in Montana

People interested in the cannabis industry in Montana can apply for five different types of licenses. Those include cultivation, manufacture, sale, testing, and transport, all of which are separate. Federally recognized Native American tribes will be given eight total combined-use licenses that would let them cultivate and sell marijuana. 

Reform Long Overdue

The move to legalization took nearly a century – cannabis was banned in a Montana Health Committee meeting in 1929. The decision had fiercely racist overtones and undertones that resulted from migrant workers rising in numbers following the Mexican Revolution. Many of those immigrants brought tequila and marijuana with them, the latter of which grew in popularity among Americans. A representative is quoted to have said in that Committee meeting, “When some beet field peon takes a few rares of this stuff… he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.” That same year, the newly appointed Commissioner of Prohibition took aim against marijuana due to his bigotry as well. “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men… [and] the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races,” Commissioner Harry Anslinger is quoted to have said during a Narcotics conference. Today, Montana hopes to remedy some of the harm that bigotry has done on non-White communities through the ages when it comes to the prosecution of marijuana-related crimes. HB-107 says the state’s Supreme Court will have a specific judge to determine expungement or resentencing of marijuana convictions.