Montana House committee passes bill to overrule Missoula’s efforts to make marijuana enforcement a low priority

In Montana, where voters overwhelmingly approved a measure legalizing medical marijuana back in 2004, the winds of change are blowing.

A few days ago the Montana House took a trip into local politics, voting by a 3-1 margin to pass a bill out of committee that would repeal a Missoula initiative instructing local law enforcement to make marijuana laws its lowest priority.

The Montana House has already voted by a wide margin to overturn the state’s medical marijuana laws.

The Senate will take the matter up soon, but in the Senate there are competing bills, with some legislators favoring additional regulation instead of outright appeal.

Some Democrats in the Legislature say it wouldn’t be right to outlaw the medicine outright legislatively,
considering it was passed by voters. Republicans, though, tend to take the stance that the voters were duped and that people are using medical marijuana recreationally.

In Missoula, recent debate has centered on the economic impact of repeal, which could be large, putting people out of work and causing commercial real estate to take a nose dive.

From a University of Montana newspaper:

Dave Stephens, owner of Better Life Montana, said that if the repeal is passed, he predicts the loss of thousands of jobs, lost city revenue from business taxes and many more people relying on food stamps.

“It’s a bad idea all the way around,” Stephens said.

Stephens owns and runs Better Life on his own and said he had hoped to hire employees in the next year. However, if House Bill 161 is passed, Stephens said, “We’d be out of business.”

He is hopeful that the bill will not be approved by the state Legislature and isn’t actively anticipating having to close down his business.

“I feel like the governor will veto it if it comes down to it,” he said.

The governor, Brian Schweitzer, is a Democrat.

In Colorado, where the right to medical marijuana is guaranteed by the constitution, the Legislature cannot ban the medicine outright, but can only craft laws by which to regulate that right.

That hardly seems to make the matter less contentious, however, as evidenced by a recent fracas in the Capitol that pitted medical marijuana advocates against a legislator who was trying to take their side in the debate.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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