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Gallatin County officials said they’re waiting to see if the Montana Legislature makes any big changes to an initiative that legalized recreational marijuana. In the meantime, they’re adjusting to the new law.

Voters approved two initiatives in November setting the framework for legalizing marijuana. The initiatives allowed the Department of Revenue to regulate and collect taxes from sales, which isn’t expected to start until spring of 2022.

The Montana Legislature, which is in session, has the authority to make changes to the law. Some officials expect that to happen and are waiting to see what that looks like at the end of the session.

For now, people over 21 are allowed to use and have an ounce of marijuana and up to eight grams of concentrates. A person can give 1 ounce or less of marijuana to another person who is 21 or older.

People can also grow up to four mature plants and four seedlings in a home, as long as the plants are kept in a locked space and are not visible by “unaided” view from public places. A person growing marijuana must own the residence where it’s grown or have permission from the owner to grow the plants there.

Having marijuana-related paraphernalia is also legal for anyone older than 18.

Driving under the influence of marijuana, smoking it in public or as a passenger in a car and having marijuana out in public is illegal. It is unlawful for anyone under 21 to ingest marijuana, unless they have a medical marijuana card, and it’s illegal to give marijuana to anyone under 21.

The initiative gives local governments the authority to regulate recreational marijuana, but Bozeman City Attorney Greg Sullivan said the city isn’t planning on changing anything right now. He said the city will wait until the end of the legislative session because state officials could loosen or tighten the law.

Some time before marijuana dispensaries open their doors, Sullivan said, he and the city manager will likely give the city commission recommendations on regulating dispensaries within city limits. That could mean mirroring the regulations the city has in place for medical marijuana dispensaries.

But that will be months from now, and he said the city is enforcing what the law is now.

“That’s all subject to see what happens with the Legislature,” Sullivan said.

He said he’s had talks with prosecutors and police to go over the law and answer any questions. Sullivan said officers are typically interested in legal possession amounts and what to do when someone is smoking in public.

Bozeman police Capt. Dana McNeill said officers will likely issue fewer marijuana-related citations because of the new law. But he said there won’t be a lot of changes because marijuana isn’t typically the initial reason for an officer to stop or search someone.

McNeill said patrol officers will likely eyeball whether a person has more or less than what is legally allowed. Officers do have scales in their patrol cars to measure that.

Patrol officers, McNeill said, are only interested in the amount of marijuana a person has — not where they got it. He said that part of the law is interesting because shops that sell marijuana likely won’t open their doors until spring of 2022.

“It’s a little unclear how distribution of this works in the near term,” he said.

Marty Lambert, Gallatin County Attorney, said people could still be cited for possession, possession with intent to distribute and possession with intent to sell, all felonies, if they have more than 2 ounces. Such a violation comes with penalties of a fine up to $500 or serving up to eight hours of community service.

“I would never say that we’re not going to prosecute someone or that law enforcement is not going to write someone a ticket,” Lambert said.

However, he said, it’s unclear what will happen if the person has more than an ounce and less than 2 ounces, as state law only allows someone to have up to 1 ounce.

Lambert said he thought passage of the law was “ill-advised” and that working through the changes will take some time. But, he said, his office is going to look at it as if it were like any other legislative change.

“Law enforcement just needs to assess what to do and change the way we’ve been doing business with regards to marijuana because we got our directions on what to do from our citizens,” Lambert said.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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