Lawmakers change language in bill for recreational pot, voters protest

Eric Tegethoff, Big Sky ConnectionApril 2, 2021Agriculture News

HELENA, Mont. – A draft bill for Montana’s recreational cannabis program is out. Conservation and outdoors advocates are hoping to secure more funds for public lands as lawmakers consider it further.

In November, 57% of Montanans approved Initiative 190, legalizing recreational marijuana for adults and directing nearly half of the tax revenue collected towards public lands. On Wednesday, groups rallied at the Capitol to call attention to the difference between the initiative and this bill.

The bill was passed with the directive that almost half of tax revenue collected go towards public lands. Lawmakers have changed that to most of the anticipated revenue being deposited in the state’s general fund.

Whitney Tawney, executive director of Montana Conservation Voters, said the bill does provide some revenue to conservation.

“There is trails and parks funding that can help with some maintenance issues,” said Tawney, “in addition to non-game species funding, and that is great. But for us, this is a starting point.”

The draft caps funding at $650,000 for each of the trails, parks and non-game species programs. Tawney said it doesn’t mention the Habitat Montana program, which helps to secure public access through acquisitions and easements.

In the draft, funds are first directed to drug-addiction treatment and then largely funneled to the state general revenue.

Anne Jolliff and her husband own Full Curl Taxidermy in Montana City and were at the Capitol on Wednesday. She said she enjoys outdoor sports and wants to make sure her three daughters get to enjoy public lands.

“It’s important for Montana’s future,” said Jolliff. “For all of us, for our kids, for our families, for our mental and physical well-being – to have that public access.”

Tawney said the funding especially for pieces such as acquisitions and easements for access are important because most of that money currently comes from hunters and anglers.

“So we want to be able to diversify that funding because, frankly, we all are a part of that,” said Tawney. “We’re all users and so this is one way to kind of equalize that share.”