When you see Initiative 190 on the general election ballot coming soon in the mail, the Montana Chamber of Commerce wants you to know they oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana on several grounds.

Chairman Richard Miltenberger said on Monday that the state chamber unanimously opposes the initiative, first because the state already faces a severe shortage of qualified workers.

“Montana's most challenging problem for business growth is the ability to attract and retain great workers,” said Miltenberger. “This is a workforce development issue in our minds. If you look at what's happened in Colorado and other states, it is more difficult to recruit workers who can come in and get the job done, show up on time, and get a CDL license if they need that and then be productive members of the workforce when you have recreational marijuana at play.”

 We need great workers in the state and this is going the opposite direction. We need to keep moving forward, not slam the car into reverse.

Miltenberger said the state chamber’s number one purpose in opposing I-190 is the safety of Montana workers.

“Of primary importance to any employer is the safety of their employees,” he said. “We've seen employers go to great lengths with COVID-19 to make sure folks are staying safe in the workforce. Well, it's the same thing with use of any intoxicating substance that you bring into your body, whether it's marijuana, whether it's drug use, whether it's alcohol, we need to make sure that our employees are safe from other employees who are operating equipment, who are carrying boxes around and are not fully on the ball or fully engaged.”

Miltenberger said a good number of Montanans already have access to marijuana through the state health department.

“It's creating a greater problem where right now, we don't have one,” he said. “We have medical marijuana, and people that need the substance for some medicinal reason can get hold of it from a healthcare perspective.” This initiative is opening up a Pandora's Box of recreational use. It is not necessary and it's going to hurt our workforce.”

Miltenberger again brought up the issue of Montana businesses that are starving for qualified workers.

“40% of our employers that are part of the 800 businesses in the Montana Chamber of Commerce, from all the way from Sydney to Libby, are hurting,” he said. “In those 800 businesses, 40% turned down a contract offer last year, yes, they turned down a business opportunity because they didn't have enough workers to fulfill the contract. So that's where we are today. We need great workers in the state and this is going the opposite direction. We need to keep moving forward, not slam the car into reverse.”

Below, read the Montana Chamber of Commerce letter:


HELENA, MT— The Montana Chamber of Commerce (Montana Chamber) is dedicated to ensuring the opportunity for business growth and prosperity by improving Montana’s business climate, talent pipeline, and entrepreneurship through workforce development.

The Montana Chamber has carefully considered the implications of the I-190 initiative, also known as Montana Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act. Upon doing so, its Board of Directors voted last week to oppose the initiative’s passage this fall.

Legalizing recreational use of marijuana could have devastating effects on Montana’s strained workforce. “We know Montana businesses were turning down growth opportunities earlier this year due to the inability to recruit a trained, motivated, and appropriately educated workforce,” said Montana Chamber President and CEO, Todd O’Hair. “Despite higher than normal unemployment rates in Montana due to COVID-19, the underlying challenges to recruiting and retaining a quality workforce remain. Legalizing recreational marijuana seems to add another layer to the challenge.”

The Workforce Employer Needs Survey conducted by the Montana Chamber in late 2019 received over 800 responses from businesses and industry leaders across the state. Data revealed that 36% of the respondents turned down business growth opportunities due to concerns about filling necessary labor requirements.

Studies consistently show marijuana users have significantly lower levels of commitment to their work than non-users and are more absent.1 The Montana Chamber is concerned that the passage of I-190 could impact an already tight labor market.

Therefore, we oppose the I-190 initiative, and its companion constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot this fall.

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