Montana lawmakers looking at possible future marijuana dispensary regulations

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jun 27, 2024

HELENA — Since the launch of Montana’s adult-use recreational marijuana system in 2022, the state has put limits on who can enter the market. Now, state lawmakers are looking at possibly extending the limits, but in a much different form.

Earlier this month, the Montana Legislature’s Economic Affairs Interim Committee held a preliminary discussion on several marijuana-related bills that could be proposed for the 2025 session. One would freeze the number of marijuana dispensaries and other facilities for two years.

Since the start of legal sales, Montana has had a moratorium, allowing only providers who had been licensed in the state’s medical marijuana system to join the recreational market. It was initially set to expire June 30, 2023, but the Legislature voted last year to extend it two more years.

While the number of licensees was limited, those providers were allowed to open additional “licensed premises,” including dispensaries. The proposed legislation – still in a very early form and subject to change – would prevent any business from adding a new licensed premise between July 1, 2025, and June 30, 2027.

“This time, we're talking about a freeze on all cannabis-related business location licensing, so no new growers, no new kitchens, no new storage facilities, no new dispensaries – they’re the part the public are really going to notice,” said Pepper Petersen, president and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild.

The committee referred to the proposal as an extension of the moratorium, but marijuana industry representatives said it’s essentially an entirely new policy, because it would remove the requirement that licensees be former medical providers. That would allow licensees to sell or transfer their businesses to new owners who haven’t previously been in the system.

Petersen said people in the industry understand that many Montanans feel there are enough – or too many – dispensaries in the state. He believes local governments should be taking more active steps to limit the growth of dispensaries through zoning or other regulations.

“We've suggested to local governments for two years or more now that they put a number of restrictions on when, where and how dispensaries can open,” he said.

Local governments like Cascade County have looked at ways to regulate marijuana businesses. Next month, the city of Missoula is set to hold a public hearing on a proposal to pause issuing business licenses for new dispensaries.

“When Missoula, Montana, one of the most liberal cities in the state – one of the most marijuana-friendly cities in the country – has said we've got too many dispensaries, that reverberates through the state Legislature,” Petersen said.

During the committee meeting, lawmakers also talked about putting together a bill draft to clarify what authority local governments have to put regulations on marijuana businesses. In addition, they looked at a “cleanup” bill to make some technical changes to marijuana laws, as well as a proposed resolution to support the federal SAFER Banking Act, which would allow legal marijuana businesses to access banking services. The committee is set to take a closer look at all of the proposals, including potential amendments, at a meeting in August.