Cannabis in Montana

Cannabis in Montana is legal for medical uses, but illegal for recreational use since 1929. Medical cannabis was legalized by ballot initiative in 2004, with a failed attempt at repeal by the legislature in 2011, and a ballot initiative has been proposed to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016.

Prohibition (1929)

Cannabis was banned in Montana in 1929, following a Health Committee meeting which was described in the local paper as "great fun", during which a representative justified the ban due to marijuana's effects on Mexicans: "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."[1]

Kurth Ranch case

In 1985, the Kurth family of Fort Benton turned to cannabis growing to save their failing beef ranch. Their efforts were successful, and after reducing their debts they decided to scale back their cannabis business, but were then threatened by drug traffickers they had done business with. The ranch was attacked by criminals impersonating DEA agents who beat the owners and stole plants, and the couple was threatened with reporting their activities to the DEA if they did not pay extortion money. The extortionists did indeed report the ranch, and in October 1987 it was raided by the DEA, and the Kurths arrested.[2]

Following their prosecution on drug charges, the Kurths were informed that they also owed tax on their cannabis proceeds to the Montana Department of Revenue. In the case of Montana Department of Revenue v. Kurth Ranch (1994), the Supreme Court concluded that Montana's 1987 Dangerous Drug Tax Act, passed just weeks before the Kurth's arrest, was a punitive tax rather than normal revenue generation, and that to tax their proceeds after the Kurths had already been punished for drug charges would be unconstitutional double jeopardy.[3]

Medical cannabis

Measure I 148, the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, was a ballot initiative approved by 62% of the popular vote in 2004: 276,042 to 170,579.[4][5]

2011 attempted repeal and limitations

In 2011, House Bill 161 to repeal I-148 was passed by both houses of the Montana Legislature, but vetoed by Governor Brian Schweitzer.[6] Following the veto, the Legislature instead placed strong restrictions on the medical program, but a number of the restrictions were blocked by state District Judge James Reynolds pending further review. The 2011 attempts at limitations were sparked by the rapidly growing number of medical marijuana cardholders in the state, growing from 2,000 in March 2009, to 31,000 by May 2011; following the restrictions, by November 2014 the number of cardholders had dropped to over 9,000.[7][8]

2016 ballot initiatives

As of mid-2015, there are three proposed ballot initiatives for the November 2016 elections in Montana: I-182 is a proposal to loosen the rules on quantities and recipients for medical cannabis; Glendive journalist Anthony Varriano's proposal to legalize recreational cannabis for adults 21 and over; and Billings businessman Steve Zabawa's proposal to require Montana's drug policy to follow federal policy, which would put an end to the state's medical marijuana program.[9][10]


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