What's being voted on
Most eyes may be on the presidential election around the country, but the marijuana industry is very eager to see what happens with voters going to polls in nine states to decide the fate of cannabis. Montana is among four states whose residents are voting on a medical cannabis initiative today.
What makes this vote unique is that Montanans already legalized medical marijuana back in 2004. In 2011, Montana's legislature amended the previously passed law in Senate Bill 423 to include the banning of medical marijuana advertisements, limiting dispensaries to just three users, and requiring a state review of doctors who prescribed marijuana to more than 25 patients per year. In other words, Montana's legislature effectively neutered the previous bill.
The Montana Medical Marijuana Act, or Initiative 182 as it's more commonly known, is looking to roll back those aforementioned changes. It would allow physicians to determine if certain ailments qualify as a "debilitating medical condition," and it would repeal both the dispensary patient limit and reviews required for medical professionals on an annual basis. Additionally, I-182 removes the language that allows law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities.
What the polling suggests
Considering that Montanans already passed medical marijuana in 2004, it would seem plausible that they'd do it again in 2016. However, the latest poll suggests just the opposite.
Based on an October poll from the Billings Gazette, just 44% approved of I-182 compared to the 51% who suggested they'd vote against it. With 5% still undecided and a margin of error of 3.2%, it's still plausible that this is too close to call one way or the other. These results are a bit shocking considering that Montana legalized medical marijuana 12 years ago, and that national support as of 2015 for medical pot stood at 84%, according to CBS News.
What's at stake
Though you'd probably need a microscope to see what sort of impact medical marijuana would have on state and local government revenue within Montana, an approval -- and thus repeal of Senate Bill 423's amendments -- would be a major win for the cannabis industry. It would essentially signal that the will of the people can overcome a potentially conservative legislature to ensure medical marijuana is an option for select patients.
Furthermore, having restrictions on Montana's medical cannabis law, coupled with the likelihood of at least one of the three other medical marijuana states approving its measure, would mean that more than half of all U.S. states legalized medical pot.
Yet, despite the undeniable momentum behind the marijuana industry, investors are likely going to want to rein in their excitement. Regardless of what happens during this election cycle, cannabis is expected to remain as a schedule 1 drug for many years to come. With marijuana as a schedule 1 substance, the companies that sell it are exposed to higher taxes and have difficulty securing even the most basic financial services like a checking account or line of credit. Even with some pundits calling for lofty legal marijuana sales figures in the coming years, there are no guarantees that John and Jane Q. Investor will be able to participate in its growth.