Montana regulators are proposing strict new rules for people working in the state’s cannabis industry that would end employment eligibility for anyone with a criminal conviction within the past three years and include offenses like simple cannabis possession, which has been made legal under the state’s new law.
It’s a move that cannabis advocates say would undermine the social-justice objectives of legalization and defies the intent of lawmakers who advanced legislation after voters approved it on the ballot last year.
Under the rules proposed by the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR), regulators listed a series of factors that are “grounds for suspension or revocation of a worker permit.”
Those factors include any “conviction, guilty plea or plea of no contest to a criminal offense within three years of the application or renewal.” DOR specified the prohibition involves a violation of “any provision of the marijuana laws,” including those of other states.
A public hearing on the proposed rules is scheduled for Nov. 30, with comments being accepted until Dec. 6.
The broad employment language is distinct from rules workers face in other state-legal cannabis markets. And because of racial disparities in the criminal justice system — particularly as it concerns enforcement of drug laws — advocates have voiced concern that DOR’s rules would further drive disparities.
“Montana DOR just flushed restorative justice down the toilet with absurd new rules, and to add insult to injury they want to make it harder to be a budtender or marijuana worker now when we are in the middle of an employment crisis,” Pepper Peterson of the Montana Cannabis Guild said.
Peterson added the proposed rules “contradict legislative negotiations and intent and just appear to be a massive power grab by the DOR.”
That bill did stipulate that people seeking employment in the cannabis sector must report to regulators whether they have a felony conviction, a violation of a cannabis law in another state or any citation related to selling alcohol or tobacco to someone underage — but it didn’t say they were automatically disqualified.
DOR appears to have reinterpreted the policy in a way that’s significantly more restrictive by including a much broader array of convictions as automatic bans. That said, the department’s proposed rules and the implementation legislation indicate there will be an appeals process for those working in the cannabis market.
Rep. Katie Sullivan (D), who serves on the Legislature’s Economic Affairs Interim Committee that has oversight over the department’s rulemaking, told The Daily Montanan “there’s a lot going into the rules that’s kind of new. We definitely have to be really careful and read everything.”
Read the complete proposed rules for Montana employment here.
This piece is part of a content-sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment.