Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Montana politics, elections and legislative news

The governor's handling of a marijuana tax bill triggers lawsuits

Marijuana in jars on a shop shelf.

Two groups filed lawsuits Wednesday against the governor and the secretary of state arguing that they are violating the Constitution by not allowing lawmakers to vote on whether to override the governor’s veto of a popular bill.

Wild Montana, Montana Wildlife Federation, and the Montana Association of Counties (MACO) filed the lawsuits over the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 442. The three organizations are among over 100 groups that endorsed Senate Bill 442 during the legislative session.

The bill would redistribute the state’s revenue from marijuana sales tax, over $50 million a year, to fund county road maintenance and a grant program for habitat restoration projects.

It passed out of the Legislature with strong bipartisan support from over 75% of lawmakers in both chambers but was vetoed on the final day of session.

The suits argue the continued refusal by Gianforte and the Secretary of State’s office to mail veto override ballots to lawmakers is unconstitutional.

He has assumed a power that does not belong to him by delivering the veto in such a manner that the Legislature cannot exercise its constitutional prerogative to override that veto,” said Constance Van Kley, an attorney from the Upper Seven Law firm representing Wild Montana and the Montana Wildlife Federation. 

Lawmakers can vote to override vetoes of bills that garnered a supermajority of support, either by a vote of both chambers during the legislative session or by mail ballot vote after adjournment. Supporters of the veto say because the House was still in session when the veto occurred, the override mail ballots are not applicable. Supporters of the bill say because the Senate had already adjourned, the ballot vote is needed.

The Governor’s office told MTPR they won’t comment on ongoing litigation, but said the governor’s reasons for vetoing Senate Bill 442 are clear.

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.
Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information