Adult-use cannabis and medical marijuana are legal in Montana. In 2004, residents voted to legalize medical marijuana and introduce the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, which permitted cannabis use for some severe health conditions. However, the progress of Montana’s medical marijuana program was slow in its early years following opposition from prohibitionist lawmakers. The introduction of SB 423 reduced access to medical marijuana till it eventually passed in 2016, despite years of litigation.
Montana voters approved Initiative 182 in 2016 to amend the medical marijuana laws and remove the restrictions introduced by SB 423. Highlights of the amendment include allowing physicians to certify more than 25 patients for medical marijuana annually, ending unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities, and adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a qualifying debilitating medical condition for medical marijuana treatment. Other qualifying medical conditions include cancer, persistent chronic pain, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy or other intractable seizure disorders, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Intractable nausea or vomiting, multiple sclerosis muscle spasms, and peripheral neuropathy.
Medical marijuana in Montana is available to residents aged 18 or older who register for a medical marijuana card via the TransAction Portal (TAP). They are entitled to buy and use cannabis from licensed dispensaries or get it from registered care providers. Registered minor patients are eligible, but their care provider must be a guardian/parent. Registered patients using care providers may have only 1 ounce of usable marijuana or less. Without a care provider, cardholders can keep four mature marijuana plants and four seedlings with an ounce of usable medical marijuana. The medical marijuana program is under the purview of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Recreational marijuana became legal in Montana after Initiative 190 was approved by voters in 2020 but became effective on January 1, 2021, after HB 701 was signed into law. Adults aged 21 or older can legally use and possess no more than an ounce. They may also cultivate up to two mature marijuana plants and two seedlings for personal use. Marijuana cultivation must be in a private residence and displaying the plants in public is illegal. Note that adult-use marijuana sales only occur in counties where residents voted in support of state-wide legalization. Such counties are commonly known as “green” counties,” while “red counties” prohibits adult-use marijuana sales.
Licensed dispensaries in Nevada may sell marijuana flowers containing one ounce of usable marijuana, with THC content not exceeding 35%. Topical products have a THC limit of 6% and 800 mg of THC or less per package. For edibles or food products, 100 milligrams of THC is the limit, and a single serving of an edible marijuana product may not exceed 10 milligrams of THC. Eligible buyers may need a valid ID card/MMJ card to purchase at dispensaries.
Marijuana possession and use in Montana remain illegal in many circumstances. For instance, public consumption and possession of both recreational and medical marijuana is a punishable offense. Likewise, marijuana consumption and possession on federal lands in Montana or tribal locations are offenses. It is also an offense to transport marijuana into or out of the state. Possession of more than 1 ounce of marijuana but less than 2 ounces is punishable by a $200 fine. Possession of above 2 ounces is a felony punishable by five years of incarceration and a $45,000 fine.
Prior to adult-use marijuana legalization, advocates speculated that Montana could experience job creation and better revenue through sales tax. In 2020, a cannabis study prepared by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) speculated the market and tax revenue potential of recreational cannabis in the state from 2022-2026. The report forecasted that the sales volume potential for recreational cannabis in Montana may grow from about $217 million in 2022 to almost $260 million in 2026. Furthermore, there is a potential tax revenue (20% retail tax) between $43.4 million and $52 million over this same period per year.
The Montana Department of Revenue reported in its Cannabis Sales Reports for 2022 that the estimated sales for adult-use marijuana were $209 million, while medical marijuana was $93 million. Tax revenue generated from the sales was $3.8 million on medical marijuana sales and $41.9 million on adult-use cannabis sales.
The marijuana crime rate in Montana is continuously declining over the past few years. The declining trend is expected to continue following the legalization of adult-use marijuana in 2021. The FBI National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) reported that Marijuana arrests (1,314 incidents) were 46% of the total drug arrests made by law enforcement agencies in 2018. Among the marijuana arrest incidents, 1,252 were for possession of marijuana charges, while 62 were for illegal sales. Crime data from the Montana Board of Crime Control (MBCC) also show 2,348 marijuana drug seizures occurred in 2018.
Marijuana arrests accounted for 21% of drug arrests in Montana in 2019. Arrests for illegal possession accounted for 95% of the 1,104 marijuana arrests made by law enforcement agencies for the year. According to the MBCC crime data for 2019, there were 2,156 incidents of marijuana-related drug seizures.
In 2020, marijuana arrests accounted for 33% of drug arrests in the state. Although this was higher than the previous year, the total number of marijuana arrests for 2020 dropped to 790 incidents, with 751 arrests being for illegal possession of marijuana and 39 for unlawful sales. Throughout the year, Montana law enforcement agencies made 1749 marijuana-related drug seizures.
The marijuana crime rate in Montana dropped significantly in 2021 due to the enactment of adult-use legalization. Moreover, the possession or intent to sell more than an ounce but less than 2 ounces became a civil infraction punishable by only a fine. At the end of the year, there were 89 marijuana-related arrests reported, an 89% decrease compared to the previous year and the most significant decline in recent years.
In 1929, Montana banned marijuana for presumably the first time following a Health Committee meeting. Since this period, the most significant change to marijuana laws occurred in 2004 after voters approved a ballot initiative (Montana Medical Marijuana Allowance, I-148) legalizing medical marijuana. The measure passed on a 62% - 38% vote and legalized the production, possession, and use of marijuana by patients with certain debilitating health conditions.
In 2011, Sen. Keith Regie (R) proposed HB 161 to discard the Medical Marijuana Act, effectively ending the state’s medical marijuana program. Montana’s House of Representatives and Senate voted in favor of the bill, which moved to the then Governor for assent. Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed the bill making it impossible for the prohibitionist lawmakers to repeal the medical marijuana law. Following the defeat of HB 161, lawmakers passed SB 423 to introduce restrictions on medical marijuana that frustrated eligible residents’ access to medical cannabis. The number of medical marijuana in Montana cardholders dropped to 9,000 by 2014 from 31,000 cardholders in 2011.
In 2016, Montana citizens voted for the Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative, I-182, to amend Senate Bill 423 and eliminate the restrictions on medical marijuana. New qualifying medical conditions were also added, and it ended unscheduled inspections of medical marijuana facilities by law enforcement agencies. Sen. M. Caferro, Z. Brown, A. Hertz, B. Smith, S. Stewart-Peregoy, F. Thomas, and D. Zolnikov introduced SB 333 in 2017 to ensure mandatory testing, establishing testing requirements, and seed-to-sale tracking. Summarily, SB 333 introduced better regulations for the medical marijuana industry.
Montana legalized adult-use cannabis in 2020 after voters approved I-190. To implement the ballot decision, state lawmakers approved House Bill 701, sponsored by Mike Hopkins (R), and signed into law by the Governor on May 18, 2021. On January 1, 2022, adult-use marijuana sales began and were made available for adults 21 years or older.
Cultivation of marijuana in the United States, the early 17th century.