Montana voters to decide five ballot measures related to firearms, marijuana, and the initiative process in November

Montana voters will decide five statewide ballot measures on November 3 concerning firearms, marijuana, and the ballot initiative process.

The two citizen initiatives on the ballot—CI-118 and I-190—were sponsored by New Approach Montana and are designed to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. CI-118 would amend the Montana Constitution to authorize the legislature or a citizen initiative to set a legal age for marijuana purchase, use, and possession. I-190 would enact a law that would legalize the possession and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21, impose a 20% tax on marijuana sales, require the Department of Revenue to develop rules to regulate marijuana businesses, and allow for the resentencing or expungement of marijuana-related crimes.

The tax revenue generated would be allocated as follows:

  1. 49.5% to accounts for wildlife, parks, and recreation
  2. 10.5% to the state’s general fund
  3. 10% to an account for drug treatment
  4. 10% to local authorities to enforce the provisions of the law
  5. 10% to an account for Montana veterans
  6. 10% to an account to fund wage increases for healthcare workers

Pepper Peterson, a spokesperson for New Approach Montana, said, “Our research has always shown that a majority of Montanans support legalization, and now voters will have the opportunity to enact that policy, which will create jobs and generate new revenue for our state. It also means that law enforcement will stop wasting time and resources arresting adults for personal marijuana possession, and instead focus on real crime.”

According to the latest campaign finance data filed on September 30, New Approach Montana reported receiving $6.95 million in contributions, including $4.7 million from the North Fund (a D.C. based nonprofit) and $1.9 million from the national New Approach PAC.

There is one committee registered in opposition to the initiatives—Wrong for Montana. The campaign reported receiving over $78,000 in contributions. Steve Zabawa, the treasurer of the Wrong for Montana campaign, said, “All you have to do is go to Colorado for a test site. They’ve been up and running now for eight years, and if you look at the traffic accidents, you look at the emergency room, you look at the vagrants, you look at the activity in the black market as well as the regular market down there, it has just exploded.”

Montana voters will also vote on a legislative referral that would remove local governments’ authority to regulate the carrying of permitted concealed weapons. The ballot measure would continue to allow local governments to regulate unpermitted concealed weapons and unconcealed weapons in public occupied buildings.

LR-130 would also remove local governments’ power to regulate the possession of firearms by “convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens, and minors.”

According to the text of the measure, it was designed “to secure the right to keep and bear arms and to prevent a patchwork of restrictions by local governments across the state.”

Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) came out in opposition to the measure saying, “[LR-130] would end local decision-making about whether felons and the mentally ill can carry weapons in public. It would also end local decision-making about concealed weapons. Both changes are dramatic departures from Montana history. Neither is good policy. Montana law already contains strong protections that totally prohibit localities from restricting our basic right to keep and bear arms. […] I see no reason to reassign that power to decision-makers in Helena.”

Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said, “Bullock is effectively arguing that a felon who would disregard committing another federal felony and disregard a state law prohibiting guns in schools would be deterred from bringing guns into schools if only local governments are allowed to enact an ordinance for a local misdemeanor prohibiting that conduct. Right, as if felons spend their time first reading and then complying with local ordinances.”

Ballotpedia identified one committee—NRA Big Sky Self-Defense Committee—in support of LR-130 that raised $16,000 from the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. There is one committee—No on LR-130—that reported nearly $1 million in contributions with its largest contribution from the Montana Federation for Public Employees ($803,369.27).

The legislature also referred two constitutional amendments to the ballot—C-46 and C-47. The measures would not alter currently enforced initiative signature distribution requirements but would amend constitutional language to match the signature distribution requirements currently enforced.

A distribution requirement is a statutory or constitutional mandate requiring that petitions for a ballot measure or candidate nomination must be signed by voters from different political subdivisions in order for the ballot measure or candidate to qualify for the ballot.

For an initiated constitutional amendment in Montana, proponents must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the qualified electors in each of two-fifths (40) of the state’s 100 legislative districts. C-47 would amend the constitutional language to match these signature distribution requirements for initiative petitions.

For an initiated state statute or a veto referendum in Montana, sponsors must collect signatures equal to 5 percent of the qualified electors in each of one-third (34) of the state’s legislative districts. C-46 would amend the constitutional language to match these requirements.

The signature distribution requirements for initiated state statutes, veto referendums, and initiated constitutional amendments were changed in the state constitution to a county-based requirement with the passage of two voter-approved constitutional amendments, C-37 and C-38, in 2002. The 2002 county-based requirements were later ruled unconstitutional. Based on a ruling from Attorney General Mike McGrath, the distribution requirements in the constitution prior to 2002 were re-enforced. The invalidated language, however, remained in the state constitution.

The deadline to register to vote is October 26. Late registration, which is conducted at county election offices, begins on October 27 and continues through election day. Polls will be open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm on election day. Mail-in ballots must be received by 8:00 pm on election day.

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