Montana’s Legislators Working Hard To Kill Jobs

by lizard

Usually, when it comes to political rhetoric, creating jobs and supporting small businesses are touted as top priorities. Unfortunately, what politicians say is often at odds with what they actually do once in office. In today’s Missoulian, there is plenty of evidence that our state legislators are not immune.

Two years ago, instead of fixing the problems with medical cannabis, a legislative crusade to kill the burgeoning industry was launched, and with the help of sensationalist journalism, they succeeded.

Now, after 6 bills to amend the screw up have already been killed this year, there is a legislative long shot to fix what the 2011 legislature so tremendously screwed up—SB377.

The 2011 law was intended to make it harder for people to get medical marijuana cards and squeeze the profits out of the industry.

In June 2011, there were 30,000 medical marijuana carders in Montana and about 4,400 providers registered with the state to supply pot to cardholders. As of last month, the numbers had plummeted to about 7,500 cardholders and 300 providers.

“To me, what the bill comes down to is two things,” Wanzenried said Friday. “It provides a seed-to-sale tracking system to track all products, and it provides a remedy for many of these lawsuits.”

He said the law hasn’t proved workable.

“This is an issue that doesn’t go away,” Wanzenried said. “The litigation is costing taxpayers.“

What is it going to be, Montana state legislators? Will your moronic anti-business medical cannabis law get dealt with in a sensible manner, or will the courts have to continue stomping on the provisions that dictate through regulatory zeal (which conservatives are allegedly against) that providers can’t be financially compensated for their efforts, along with other stupid provisions crafted to destroy the medical cannabis industry?

While the fate of medical cannabis is up in the air, another industry is in the crosshairs: the craft brewing industry.

In his weekly column in today’s Missoulian, George Ochenski takes a look at how our legislators are trying to expand their anti-business attacks on local businesses by carrying out the will of the Montana Tavern Association, an issue I touched on in this post about the politics of beer.

Ochenski gets into the history of craft brewing in his column today, explaining how the regulations already in place are some of the most restrictive in the nation, yet despite those initial attempts to handcuff economic growth by our elected officials, the Montana Tavern Association wants to totally hobble its competition:

What’s giving the Tavern Association heartburn, if you believe its rap, is that bars and taverns have to purchase a liquor license to sell retail beer and hard liquor. These licenses are issued by the Montana Department of Revenue and are based on population so there are a limited number of licenses available and acquiring one can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Breweries must also be licensed, but are allowed to sell their beers on-site to the public without having to spend the money for a full liquor license.

This argument is not new. Indeed, for those who have been following the evolution of Montana’s craft brewing industry, these same arguments were used in the early and mid-’90s to stifle every attempt at providing a legal framework in which craft brewers could ply their art and practice their business.

But in the late ’90s, the Legislature finally realized that a new industry was knocking on its door, pleading to be allowed to do nothing more than work hard, produce a saleable and sought-after product, and bring their local communities the opportunity to enjoy that product on the premises where it was made.

Yet, in finally giving its approval to craft brewing, the Legislature put some of the most restrictive measures in the nation on what, when and how our breweries and their taprooms can operate. For instance, no person may be served more than 48 ounces of beer per day and taprooms may only serve beer between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. And unlike bars and taverns, the license to run a brewery does not come with an associated right to operate lucrative video gaming machines that produce tens of thousands of dollars per year per machine in revenues.

In spite of these harsh regulatory restrictions, Montana’s craft brewing industry has thrived. Indeed, it is a model of the qualities we value in Montana. Enthusiastic entrepreneurs take the risks to start breweries, invest significantly in the equipment and facilities necessary to brew great beer, offer their products to the general public and have found a willing and grateful customer base that truly appreciates the quality and variety of their local brews.

From its tiny start, Montana’s craft brewing industry has grown to a $50 million a year industry in a mere 15 years and Montana now ranks second in the nation in craft breweries per capita. They range from our largest cities to tiny places like Wibaux and Philipsburg, where locals love their brews.

Now, however, the big and ugly foot of the Montana Tavern Association is trying to stomp the breweries back into the barley dust from which they came. The bill has yet to be introduced, but the unofficial draft copy of the measure requested by Rep. Roger Hagen, R-Great Falls, LC1429, is outlandish.

Since our state only engages in its legislative efforts every two years, it’s incredibly important for our legislators to make the most of their time in Helena.

But instead of crafting the legislation we Montanans need and deserve, there has been entirely too much time wasted on embarrassing legislation that quickly becomes fodder for national media outlets to ridicule.

  1. lizard19

    the cowgirl has a post about liquor licenses in MT that’s worth reading.

  2. Pogo Possum

    What ever happened to “The Will Of The People” we heard so much about from the MM crowd?

    Voters made it overwhelming clear last November that they wanted to dramatically restrict medical marijuana when they voted to approve the Montana Medical Marijuana Refernedum which supported the 2011 legislation drastically revising the 2004 MM measure.

    While you may think it is a good thing Montana had 30,000+(and rising) MM card holders, an overwhelming majority of voters disagreed and showed their disagreement by upholding the work of the 2011 legislature.

    It’s “The Will Of The People”.

    • lizard19

      attitudes shift, and there was movement away from supporting MM for a variety of reasons.

      part of the problem, IMHO, was focusing on just the medical benefits of cannabis. add to that some bad-faith players, like Jason Christ, who turned serious advocacy into a self-promoting circus, and the backlash was predictable.

      it seems Montanans, yourself included Pogo, were alarmed at the quick increase of card holders. how many people do you think use marijuana recreationally in this state right now? how much money is being spent to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate people over the use of a plant that is vastly less destructive than alcohol?

      prohibitionists are fighting a losing battle. it’s just a matter of time before sense wins over decades of propagandized fear and failed criminalization.

  3. Eric

    Actually Lizard, the ‘prohibitionists’ in Washington have already won the war. What the MM proponents need to do is take their fight to Washington DC –

    It doesn’t matter what the States legislate, as the DEA can swoop in and ruin their party anytime.

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