Republicans joined with Democrats to vote down the cannabis implementation bill, only to resurrect it later.
By Arren Kimbel-Sannit, Daily Montanan
Mike Milburn, Gov. Greg Gianforte’s senior advisor, was on Thursday walking the Capitol halls past the legislative chambers—where the governor had just visited to gladhand and backslap with House Republicans—when Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, appeared from a side door to the Senate floor to get his attention.
Milburn leaned in to listen.
“The bill is coming back,” Ellsworth told the former House Speaker. “701 is coming to the floor.”
That morning, grand ambitions from the governor’s office and the Republican legislative establishment for implementing recreational marijuana in Montana were nearly derailed in committee when the GOP’s right flank and Democrats joined to vote down this session’s flagship pot proposal, only for the bill to be revived less than an hour later after a series of frenzied negotiations within the majority party.
Democrats had already been planning to vote against the bill, House Bill 701; despite propping up a comprehensive recreational pot market, the proposal diverted most revenues from taxes on the product to the state general fund, a departure from the language in I-190, the legalization initiative that voters approved last year.
But a contingent of Republicans voted against the bill as well. Some just don’t like marijuana, or are sensitive about adult use due to the rocky rollout of medical marijuana many years before. Some, echoing a concern among Democrats, worried about the speed of the process. For months, lawmakers and stakeholders from the governor’s office and the industry had been crafting the bill, but it only had its first committee hearings this week, with the days ticking down until the deadline to transmit revenue bills to the opposite chamber.
HB701, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, was