Montana House committee holds working group on major marijuana reform bill before it's introduced

Posted at 5:40 PM, Mar 25, 2021

HELENA — The major bill to overhaul Montana’s marijuana laws still hasn’t been officially introduced, but lawmakers are already taking a closer look at the proposed changes.

One committee started its work on the bill early. The House Business and Labor Committee held a working group meeting Thursday morning to begin getting a better understanding of what the bill would do. Lawmakers went through the current draft text section by section, talking about the proposed changes and asking questions about the intent.

Committee chair Rep. Mark Noland, a Republican from Bigfork, told MTN he held the unusual meeting so his members would be better prepared when they heard the bill next week.

“Hopefully we can have some good, in-depth questions,” he said. “Our job is to make the best law for the state.”

This bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Hopkins of Missoula and drafted with input from Gov. Greg Gianforte’s administration, is likely to be the main marijuana reform proposal debated this legislative session – though several other large marijuana bills are also being introduced this week.

The current draft text of Hopkins’ bill – which remains unofficial until the bill is introduced – is about 140 pages long. It would reshape most aspects of the recreational marijuana system set up by the voter-approved Initiative 190 and make changes to medical marijuana rules as well.

The legislation will have to move fast over the coming weeks. Hopkins said it’s likely to go through the Business and Labor Committee and House Taxation Committee before going to the House floor, and to the House Appropriations Committee either before or after the floor. The bill must pass through the House by April 8 in order to keep moving forward.

Noland said that tight timetable is one of the reasons he wanted to hold work sessions before the bill was introduced. He said the committee got through about half of the current draft on Thursday, and they will hold another session on it Friday morning.