In Montana, marijuana legalization is one step closer to appearing on November's ballot thanks to a group of activists led by New Approach Montana. On Friday, June 19, the deadline to submit signatures for ballot initiatives in Montana, the group submitted over 130,000 in support of two separate, but connected, initiatives.
The first is I-190, a statutory initiative that would legalize marijuana in Montana while outlining the regulation and taxation that would come with it. New Approach Montana claims over 52,000 signatures in support of I-190, well above the 25,468 required by Montana law.
The other is CI-118, an initiated constitutional amendment, which would set the legal age for cannabis possession and consumption at 21. Constitutional amendments require twice as many signatures as statutory amendments. New Approach Montana submitted over 80,000 signatures for CI-118, roughly 30,000 more than necessary.
"We think it represents what's going to happen in November," New Approach Montana spokesman Pepper Petersen tells Montana Public Radio. "There's going to be overwhelming support for this in every corner of the state."
Those numbers are impressive on their own, and even more so considering they were collected during a pandemic that hit during the home stretch of signature-collection season.
New Approach Montana had to essentially shut down its signature drive during the state's lockdown. In response, it sued the state in an attempt to allow for electronic signature gathering as well as to push the deadline back from June to early August. Neither request was granted.
Still, the group managed to exceed requirements by getting creative.
As the state began reopening in May, activists in masks and gloves, with single-use pens and plenty of hand sanitizer, began collecting signatures again. They also launched a program that allowed voters to submit a physical signature from home, via snail mail.
The coronavirus pandemic began as an impediment for the legalization efforts, but now it's helping make the case for cannabis in Big Sky Country.
"COVID has done a number to the state's projected tax revenue for 2020 and 2021," says Dave Lewis, a retired Republican state representative and former state budget director, in a press release. "Adding nearly $50 million dollars a year to the state budget with legal adult-use marijuana isn't just a bonus. This projected revenue has already become vital to the future budget of this state." ♦