HELENA — The backers of a voter-initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Montana said Monday they’ve formed a new group, with national backing, that’s prepared to spend at least $3 million to get the measure and a companion constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot and pass them.
“We’re confident that we’re going to be on the ballot,” said Pepper Petersen, political director for New Approach Montana. “I’m very confident that we’ll be able to pass this initiative.”
Petersen confirmed that the state-based group, New Approach Montana, will actually be pushing two voter-intiatives: A regular ballot measure to legalize marijuana use for adults, and a separate constitutional initiative, to allow the Legislature to restrict marijuana use to those 21 and older.
New Approach Montana filed earlier this month with the state as a ballot committee, which will serve as the financing arm of the campaign to attempt to qualify and pass the two measures.
New Approach Montana will be allied with and aided by New Approach PAC, a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee that has helped pass marijuana-legalization measures in other states, and the Marijuana Policy Project, another national group, Petersen told MTN News.
He said New Approach Montana could spend $3 million to $6 million on the entire campaign. It also has estimated that if marijuana is legalized for adult use in Montana, it could bring in $30 million in new tax revenue for the state, he added.
Petersen said the group hopes to submit proposed ballot language to state officials for review by the end of November. State review usually takes a few months, before the proposed initiatives are approved for signature-gathering.
An initiative needs the signatures of about 25,500 registered Montana voters to get on the ballot, but the separate constitutional initiative needs twice as many, or nearly 51,000 signatures. Signatures must be submitted to election officials by next June.
Petersen said New Approach Montana will be holding town meetings, starting early next month, to get citizen input on what the measure should include.
Those meetings will be an extension of work started by Coalition406, a pro-marijuana group that is merging with New Approach Montana, he added.
However, at least one element of the measure won’t be compromised, he said: Marijuana will be available only to people 21 and older.
“No way do we want high-schoolers in Montana on marijuana,” Petersen said. “We can’t compromise on that.”
Still, the 21-year-old restriction can't be enacted without changing the state constitution, which grants the rights of adulthood to those 18 and older, unless otherwise stated. Petersen said the constitutional amendment, if passed by voters in 2020, would give the Legislature the power to set the 21-year-old limit for those using marijuana -- if it's legalized.
Backers of the initiative also want to design it so Montana vendors who’ve been on the forefront of medical marijuana, which is legal, will still be a vital part of an expanded industry, he added.
“The people that brought this industry to Montana, they care about their patients,” he said. “We don’t want some nameless, faceless corporations coming in here just to make their profits.”
Petersen also said the campaign will focus on what marijuana can do for military veterans, who are being prevented by the Veterans Administration from getting treatment from marijuana for post-traumatic stress syndrome and other maladies.
In a statement, Graham Boyd, director of New Approach PAC, said Monday that the group is looking forward to working with the Montana group, and that “our polling shows that a strong majority of Montana voters support this change in policy.”