Credit: Adobe stock. May not be republished without license. Credit: Adobe stock. May not be republished without license.

The Montana Department of Revenue has revised proposed regulations regarding marijuana advertising that had raised eyebrows among dispensaries, growers and others in the state’s burgeoning adult-use cannabis industry. 

This summer, the department has been navigating an exhaustive rulemaking process ahead of the Jan. 1, 2022, opening of Montana’s recreational cannabis market. While Montana voters gave adult-use marijuana the greenlight last November and the Legislature passed a law to implement the program earlier this year, it has been up to state bureaucrats at the revenue department — which will oversee both the new recreational market and the medical marijuana system previously managed by the Department of Public Health and Human Services — to sort out the details. 

While the Legislature put various guardrails on legal cannabis during this spring’s session, stakeholders in Montana’s marijuana industry weren’t happy with some DOR proposals earlier this year. One rule under consideration would have restricted the size of signs outside dispensaries and required signage to include a lengthy warning about marijuana’s intoxicating effects and potential to be habit-forming, among other cautions. Another would have prohibited dispensaries from advertising. Pepper Petersen, president and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild, which represents producers and dispensaries across the state, called the proposals a “radically conservative interpretation of the law.” In August, he said his group was prepared to sue the state over those rules. 

More than a month later, Petersen’s tune has changed after the state released a revised set of proposed rules earlier this week. 

“These are a lot more reasonable,” he said of the revised rules. “They have addressed a lot of our concerns.”

Under the new rules, dispensaries will be able to promote their business via advertising and market their brand. However, dispensaries may not specifically advertise marijuana products except in online ads. The state has also eliminated what some dispensary owners believe was a burdensome set of rules that would have required dispensaries and other marijuana-related businesses to display a lengthy warning about the drug. The warnings will no longer be required on dispensary signage, but dispensary signs will still have to comply with local ordinances. 

Marijuana-related businesses that have a website will have to utilize appropriate measures to verify that people visiting the web page are at least 21 years old, much as breweries and distilleries are required to do. Social media accounts will also have to be private and must contain a notice on the main page stating that only people 21 or older can follow the account. 

The public can comment on the revised rules until 5 p.m. on Sept. 20. Comments can be sent to ​​ Todd Olson, Department of Revenue, Director’s Office, P.O. Box 7701, Helena, Montana 59604-7701 or emailed to todd.olson@mt.gov.

Montana Department of Revenue Public Information Officer Czelsi Gómez said this week that the state is “on track” to opening the adult-use recreational cannabis market on schedule on Jan. 1, 2022. 

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Justin Franz is a freelance writer, photographer and editor based in Whitefish. Originally from Maine, he is a graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism and worked for the Flathead Beacon for nine years. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Seattle Times and New York Times. Find him at justinfranz.com or follow him on Twitter.