This is despite the efforts of Rep. Tom Winter, D-Missoula who tried to convince the members of the House Taxation committee that his sponsored bill (House Bill 770) was not a model of mistakes committed in other states that have legalized the use of recreational marijuana, but a reaction to it. According to his estimates, the bill would earn Montana about $35 million to $55 million in revenue annually, with 32 percent tax on retail marijuana sales.
On the other hand, Lt. Jim Sanderson and Sgt. Kurt Sager of the Montana Highway Patrol opposed the bill basing their argument on the statistics from recent impact reports. The reports found an increase in hospitalizations and the number of traffic deaths related to marijuana in Colorado after its legalization in the state.
Sgt. Sager described the bill sponsored by Winter a “nightmare” for all the residents of Montana. Moreover, he also claimed that the economic cost of the increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths alone, in the end, would exceed new tax revenue. He estimated marijuana-related deaths alone could be 30 to 65 per year.
“If you cause someone’s death on the roadway because of driving under the influence of any substance that amounts to homicide,” explained Sager. “You are simply taking somebody’s life. Therefore, if we pass the bill that raises the number of people who are driving impaired on the roads in Montana, we will increase the cases of homicide.”
Moreover, Winter also reminded the committee the bill’s revenue would be channeled, with 15 percent going to the state Department of Health and Human Services for Mental health causes while 20 percent would go to a special revenue account for the Montana Highway Patrol.
“We should ensure that we are adopting something that addresses the concerns that we have learned from other states even if this proposal will become law, whether through federal changes, through initiative or through this bill. Besides, it should be something that we have learned from the prohibition of the product and ensure that we are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of our citizenry,” Winter added.
However, the committee voted 12-6 in the end to table House Bill 770. Among the 11 Republicans in the committee, only Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings opposed the motion to stop the bill from advancing to the floor of the House.
Apart from the bill that seeks to legalize recreational marijuana use, the House of Taxation committee also tabled five other bills, which were heard on Thursday in their meeting. One of the bills includes an attempt to revive the local option sales tax from Rep. Chris Pope, D-Bozeman.