By K.T.

President Biden’s recent announcement prompts us to take another look at the marijuana issue here in Great Falls.  But first, for those who may have missed Biden’s announcement on marijauana, here are the salient points.

  1. Offers pardons to 6500 people with convictions for simple possession of marijuana
  2. Directs the Department of Justice to review whether marijuana belongs on Federal Schedule 1 of dangerous drugs along with fentanyl, heroin and other drugs
  3. Encourages states to make similar moves on marijuana policy

Let’s review some of the facts about people’s attitudes toward marijuana here in Great Falls. Remember that numerous attempts to liberalize marijuana laws in Montana have failed numerous times in the Republican dominated legislature. Advocates of legalizing marijuana finally decided to take it directly to the people through the initiative process, gathering signatures for two ballot measures.   One was a statutory measure (which theoretically could be repealed or amended by a simple majority of the legislature), and the other amended  the state constitution to allow legal marijuana in Montana (much harder for the legislature to change.) So, after gathering the required signatures across the state, both measures qualified and appeared on the ballot in the 2020 election.  You remember that one.  Trumpers swept the Montana elections, carrying “conservatives” into office up and down the ballot. But despite that, both ballot measures passed by wide margins.

Despite overwhelming public support, Republican legislators in 2021 still supported bills to restrict and limit marijuana in Montana. So here’s a table with some relevant numbers. 

Please note that some of the incumbents are not running in the same district they represented in 2021.

House District% for Initiative 190% for CI 118Republican Legislator 2021 sessionDemocratic Challenger 2022
2156.56%56.84%Ed ButtreyLela Graham
2261.41%60.14%Lola Sheldon-GallowayNick Henry
2359.26%58.66%Scot KernsMelissa Smith
2457.21%58.18%Stephen GallowayBarbara Bessette
2561.17%59.59%Steve GistJasmine Krotkov
2663.19%60.20%Jeremy TrebasCasey Schreiner

But the story doesn’t end there.  After the election and the legislative session ended, local governments weighed in. Here in Great Falls the City Commission flubbed it.  To make a long and painful story short, the city commission basically bent to a small, vocal group of people who wanted to prohibit marijuana sales in the city. 

Historically, cultivation and sale of marijuana has been prohibited by city zoning code.  After the new law was passed making marijuana legal in Montana, the City Commission could have (and we believe should have) simply repealed the old zoning code and adopted a code which allowed marijuana sales in city limits.  Instead, the Commissioners took the easy way out and referred the question to the ballot. Only one commissioner, Eric Hienbaugh, voted against the referral to the ballot.  Unfortunately the ballot wording is confusing, because a “For” vote means you want to prohibit marijuana sales in the city.  So, if you want to allow marijuana sales in the City of Great Falls, you should vote “Against,” which means you support marijuana sales in the city..

This has been a long and tortured process involving petitions, lawsuits,  numerous hearings, and public meetings.  Hopefully the measure will pass on the ballot making it legal to buy marijuana  in city limits, and we can move forward as the voters in Montana intended in the first place.