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Recreational Cannabis Legalisation

Montana voters seem poised to approve a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives next month, according to a new poll.

Asked about legal cannabis measures that will appear on their ballots, 49 percent of likely voters said they will vote for the reform while 39 percent said they would oppose it. What remains to be seen is where the remaining 10 percent of undecided voters will land on the question. (An additional two percent of respondents said they will skip the cannabis measures when voting.)

The survey asked a simplified version of what voters will see on Election Day. Rather than ask about both measures—one statutory proposal to legalize and a separate constitutional amendment to codify that only those 21 and older can access the market—the question reads: “The state ballot will ask about legalizing recreational marijuana in Montana. Will you vote to support or oppose legalization?”

As is typical with cannabis polling, more Democrats (70 percent) are in favor of the policy change compared to Republicans (27 percent). Fifty-nine percent of independents said they favor legalization.

Via MSU.

The results also show that legalization is supported by most age groups, except those 60 and over, with voters aged 18 to 29 backing it by a near than three-to-one margin.

Via MSU.

“The fate of marijuana legalization comes down to three factors: how the ‘don’t know’ respondents split, independent voters, and the presence of younger voters at the polls,” analysts at Montana State University (MSU) said. “Right now, 49 percent of respondents overall indicate they will vote to legalize—a 10-point lead over those indicating they will not.”

That said, the pro-legalization side has its work cut out to win over those voters who are still undecided by the time Election Day rolls around.

“Typically, the status quo position is advantaged in referendums, which would be no legalization,” they said. “With a high voter turnout, Montana will likely legalize marijuana, assuming voters understand that both initiatives must pass and vote accordingly.”

The analysis also noted that the legalization initiatives could attract younger voters to the polls, which could benefit Democratic candidates who also appear on the ballot.

“I think it is important to think about a ballot as a complete organic entity,” David Parker, a political science professor at MSU, said. “Young voters strongly are in favor of the measure, and they tend to be Democratic leaning.”

The poll—which involved responses from 1,787 Montanans from September 14 to October 2—is a good sign for New Approach Montana, the campaign behind the reform measures. But it also underscores the need to maintain their current support while convincing at least some of those outstanding undecided voters to get on board.

The survey also asked about gubernatorial, Senate and House races in the state, as well as the presidential campaign, and MSU said that of all the ballot-related questions in the poll, the response to the cannabis question was the only one outside the +/-3.9 percentage point margin of error.

For residents who value environmental conservationism, a recent endorsement of the legalization initiatives by a coalition of groups committed to that issue could be a motivating factor.

The state—widely known for its public lands and parks that attract tourists from across the country—would see a significant influx of revenue for environmental conservation programs from cannabis taxes if the legalization measure passes in November. Half of the public revenue from marijuana sales would be earmarked for such purposes.

If the statutory measure is approved by voters, possessing up to an ounce of cannabis would be allowed, and people could cultivate up to four plants and four seedlings at home.

The Montana Department of Revenue would be in charge of regulating the legal industry and would issue business licenses by January 1, 2022. Existing medical cannabis businesses would be first in line to enter the adult-use market.

There would be a 20 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana, while the tax on medical cannabis products would be reduced from two to one percent. Besides public lands funding, those tax dollars would also go toward veteran services, substance misuse treatment, health care, local governments that allow cannabis businesses and the state general fund.

Montana voters approved a medical cannabis legalization initiative in 2004 and later passed a 2016 expansion measure.

For the current cycle, New Approach Montana submitted their petitions for the cannabis initiatives in June. That came after they initially suspended signature gathering activities amidst the coronavirus pandemic, which they later relaunched with social distancing measures in place.

In July, the group announced that data from county officials indicated they would make the ballot. And in August, state officials officially qualified the measures.

The Montana Democratic Party adopted a platform plank endorsing marijuana legalization in June.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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