On Tuesday, one day after a hearing that drew pointed opposition from representatives of the cannabis and media industries, the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee voted down — and then tabled — a bill to ban most marijuana advertising in Montana.

In its current form, House Bill 351, sponsored by Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings, prohibits the “publication, dissemination, solicitation, or circulation of visual, oral, or written communication” that could “directly induce” someone to buy or consume marijuana. It would allow businesses to maintain websites and to employ outdoor signage. It had already been approved by the House. 

Kerri Seekins-Crowe
Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings, speaks about House Bill 351 during a committee hearing on March 20, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of MPAN

Before the vote, the committee approved an amendment that would permit cannabis businesses to donate to charitable causes and have their name listed as a donor. The amendment also allows businesses to sell merchandise that bears their name or logo.

The bill failed on a vote of 4-6. The committee voted unanimously to table it.

The committee also on Tuesday voted down and subsequently tabled House Bill 611, sponsored by Rep. Jane Gillette, R-Bozeman. That bill, which had also passed the House, would require businesses to add a warning label to marijuana packaging directed specifically at pregnant women.


Marijuana policy at legislative halftime

In the first half of the 2023 Legislature, lawmakers advanced bills that would restrict marijuana businesses’ ability to advertise, mandate warning labels for pregnant women and require cultivators to limit the odor of cannabis-growing facilities. A bill to remove taxes on medical marijuana got tabled in committee.

During Monday’s hearing on the two bills, a single proponent, Coleen Smith, executive director of Helena-based Youth Connections, spoke in favor of HB 351, the ad ban bill. “Kids and families should not have to be subjected to being inundated with advertising about this very addictive substance,” she said.

Bill opponents argued that the ad ban contradicts language in HB 701, last session’s industry framework bill, as well as rules established by the Department of Revenue. Those rules permit the advertising of a brand, but prohibit businesses from advertising specific products. 

Pepper Petersen of the Montana Cannabis Guild highlighted HB 351’s prohibition of advertising via “oral” communication. “Could we even speak loudly about our brand?” he asked the committee.

Kate Cholewa of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association argued that the Cannabis Control Division does not currently have sufficient staff to crack down on bad actors, and that the vast majority of businesses adhere to the “spirit” of current policy.

Later in the hearing, Smith spoke again as the sole public proponent of HB 611, while industry representatives argued that the science cited by Gillette to justify warning labels for pregnant women is scant and unsubstantiated.

The committee voted HB 611 down 3-7. The committee tabled the bill unanimously.

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Max Savage Levenson writes "The Sit-Down" column for Montana Free Press. Max is additionally the founder of Big Sky Chat House, a weekly long-form interview newsletter featuring movers and shakers across Montana. His writing on music and cannabis policy has appeared in outlets including Pitchfork, NPR's All Songs Considered, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Reason.