HELENA, Mont. (Nov. 4, 2020) – Yesterday, Montana voters passed two measures to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over despite federal prohibition.
Montana voters approved Ballot issue I-190 56.6 percent to 43.4 percent with over 563 votes cast. The statutory measure legalizes the possession and use of limited amounts of marijuana by people 21 and older. It also establishes a licensing, taxation and regulatory scheme for cannabis sales and cultivation. I-190 includes a process for resentencing and records expungement for past marijuana offenses.
Voters also approved a separate measure, CI-118, by a 57.7- 42.3 vote. The initiative amends the state constitution to allow the legislature or a citizen initiative to establish the legal age of purchasing, consuming, or possessing marijuana. In effect, it will set the legal age for recreational marijuana at 21.
“This result illustrates that support for adult-use marijuana legalization extends across geographic and demographic lines,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana Moment. “Marijuana legalization is not exclusively a ‘blue’ state issue, but an issue that is supported by a majority of all Americans—regardless of party politics.”
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. Montana joins New Jersey, South Dakota and Arizona in legalizing recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election.
Montana legalized medical marijuana in 2004 through a ballot initiative.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Legalization of marijuana for personal use in Montana takes the next step and removes another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Montana is one of a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition and nullifying it in practice.
With 36 states now allowing cannabis for medical use, and 15 legalizing for recreational adult-use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.
The push to legalize marijuana for personal use in Montana demonstrates another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way for medical purposes – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand grows. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
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