On November 3, voters overwhelmingly approved a pair of measures that legalize recreational marijuana in Montana. Supporters say it will generate revenue, will free up police to focus on serious crime, and make medical marijuana more available for those who need it. But MTN News found out that not everyone is singing the praises of the passage.
Starting in January, possession and use of small amounts of recreational marijuana will be available to people 21 and over, with a full roll-out possible by October.
“When they talk about the marijuana back in the 70’s, this is not the same,” said Kristy Pontet-Stroop, the director of Alliance For Youth in Great Falls. “It literally was almost equivalent to smoking grass.”
The potency of the recreational marijuana of today is just one of the concerns Pontet-Stroop has about the passage of two measures legalizing the substance in Montana.
She’s also hoping state and local leaders will look closely at the number of places it can be bought: “I would really hate to see there be as many dispensaries as there are casinos in our town. That would be pretty devastating.”
Pontet-Stroop says education and awareness will be key. From what she’s seen in other states, she’s concerned about kids getting their hands on the drug. “It’s definitely increased youth access and youth using marijuana,” said Pontet-Stroop. “We’ve definitely seen that from a treatment perspective. It is an addictive drug. How are they going to keep our kids safe and how are they going to keep that out of the hands of kids, away from their children and how are they going to have those conversations that this isn’t for them.”
Megan Bailly works at Gateway Recovery Center in Great Falls. She wasn’t surprised the measures passed. She says now that the drug will be legal, treatment specialists can educate people the way they do about other addictive substances.
“We consistently will talk to people about alcohol,” said Bailly “Alcohol’s legal, but a lot of people have a problem with alcohol. So there’s no reason to think that people won’t have a problem with marijuana when it’s legal.”
Bailly says marijuana poses some mental health concerns. It can be effective treatment for people with psychiatric disorders, like PTSD, but she says the drug can also lead to anxiety.
For people in recovery, marijuana can have a serious impact. “You know somebody who does use marijuana following treatment for heroin, or meth, or alcohol is more likely to relapse on their drug of choice,” said Bailly.
With a legislative session set to convene in January, the measure could see some adjustments. Bailly hopes that means more treatment resources. “Here’s the thing, people are using it, they’ve been using it,” said Bailly. “And so can we now address that a little more directly.”
The Cascade County Substance Abuse Prevention Alliance is holding a virtual summit Thursday, November 12, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. Discussion of the marijuana initiatives will be on the agenda.
The summit will be on Zoom. For more information, visit the website, call the agency at 406-952-0018k, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.