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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Supreme Court Rejects Challenge To Marijuana Ballot Measure

Cannabis bud.
Cannabis bud.

The Montana Supreme Court Wednesday rejected a last-minute legal challenge to block a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana sales to Montanans ages 21 and up. The decision came two days after the group "‘Wrong for Montana" filed the complaint

Initiative 190 establishes a 20-percent tax on non-medical cannabis sales and directs that money to the general fund and other programs.

Opponents argue it violates the state constitution because initiatives aren’t allowed to appropriate funds. 

Montana’s Supreme Court Justices didn’t rule on the merits of the argument, saying only it failed to show the necessary urgency to be heard at that level. Justices suggested plaintiffs first take it to the district court.

Wrong for Montana’s Steve Zabawa says, "It’s not that they don’t want to rule on it, they just said, ‘It’s not the right time – go take it down to district court, make a decision and then you can bring it to us at that time.'"

Zabawa tells Montana Public Radio he expects the complaint would be filed at the district court level by the end of the day Thursday.

The Montana Supreme Court’s decision didn’t surprise Dave Lewis. Lewis is policy adviser for New Approach Montana, the group working to legalize recreational marijuana. New Approach dismisses the complaint as a frivolous longshot.

"This is kind of an old tactic to file lawsuits to try to confuse voters," Lewis says. "It’s been done before and will be done in the future. I’m not surprised."

With less than two weeks until Election Day, nearly 290,000 Montanans had cast their votes as of Wednesday. 

Absentee ballots were sent out October 9. Election Day is Nov. 3.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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