House Bill 770, the bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Montana, was heard before the House Taxation Committee early Thursday morning, sponsored by Missoula legislator Tom Winter.

The bill’s sponsor in the 2017 legislative session, Ellie Hill Smith, said there are efforts outside the legislature to bring recreational use marijuana to Montana.

“At the same time, there are efforts to put the issue on the ballot in 2020 here in Montana,” said Hill Smith. “Montana is a purple state and we’re very Libertarian leaning and we like limited government. We were one of the first medical marijuana states back in 2004 and it passed in all 56 counties, then two years ago again in Montana overwhelmingly passed medical marijuana in 55 or 56 counties.”

Hill Smith tied marijuana legislation with criminal justice reform.

“As you know, at the federal level there’s a lot of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform,” she said. “Former Speaker Boehner is on the boards of directors of national marijuana companies, so I won’t be surprised if it passes as a ballot initiative and I’m also not surprised that polls are favoring the legalization of marijuana.”

Hill Smith said one of the chief reasons why marijuana is so popular with municipalities, is the potential for increased tax revenue.

“A quick Google search will find tens of millions of dollars for our state general fund to fund our state government services, like Health and Human Services, like Child Protective Services, and education,” she said. “These are some gaps that we really need to fill right now. We already raise funds through other adult use products like alcohol and tobacco. There are already over 32,000 medical marijuana cardholders in the state and many of these are folks with chronic pain in Gallatin County and Bozeman has the highest medical marijuana car holding numbers in the state, even higher than Missoula.”

Hill Smith said many of her former and current legislators agree that recreation use marijuana would have a huge potential for state tax revenue.