Q&A: Why Tom Winter is Putting Cannabis at the Center of his Run for Congress
Plus: Two great strains from Montana Reserve and new jobs across the state!
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Welcome back to Montana Cannabis Weekly! In this week’s newsletter, we’re taking a deep dive into the campaign of former State Representative Tom Winter, who is running for Montana’s new Congressional seat (MT-01). A staunch progressive, Winter has made cannabis reform a core component of his campaign; his willingness to explicitly address his own cannabis consumption throughout the campaign is similarly striking. We’ll talk about all that, and more, in our in-depth Q&A.
A Fruitful Haul From Montana Reserve!
A few weeks ago, when MCW contributor Ariana Newton and I began plotting a trip to Bozeman, a good friend in the industry told us we had to check out the flower at Montana Reserve, a new shop just outside of downtown with some super classy branding.
It wasn’t exactly a hard sell.
We went in with high expectations, and, I’m happy to report, not disappointed in the slightest. Here’s Ariana’s review of two of her favorite Montana Reserve strains: Peach Ringz and Lemonhead OG.
“Talk about ringing in the new year with a heady high! The indulgent indica-dominant Peach Ringz flower was quite a crowd pleaser. A cross between Marionberry Kush and Eddy OG, and boasting fluffy buds with peachy hairs, it provided me with a short burst of productive task-focused energy before ultimately settling into a relaxing head high.
Yet at the opposite end of the spectrum, I was even more enamored by the flavor and profile of their zingy, zesty Lemonhead OG. Talk about a gorgeous lemon aroma! Given the chance, I would definitely use this strain as an air freshener!
I was sad to smoke it all and have to say goodbye. The buds were exceptionally sticky, and it gave me a zippy, giggly high. In short, I am obsessed with this strain! It was a great smoke to help me channel my creativity and let loose on a couple of unfinished paintings.”
Genetics / Stats
Love Him or Not, Tom Winter is Montana’s Pro-Weed Candidate for Congress
A few weeks ago, Tom Winter, one of three Democrats running for Montana’s new congressional seat, tried out a novel fundraising pitch for his campaign:
The nod to cannabis culture would be audacious for most politicians, but was hardly out of step with Winter’s weed-friendly campaign. The 35-year old has advocated for cannabis reform since he was a member of the Montana State Legislature during the 2019 session, where he introduced House Bill 770, which would have legalized cannabis for anyone over the age of 18. He’s also the only candidate in the race, and one of few nationwide, to openly (read: brazenly) acknowledge his own cannabis consumption - a habit I can confirm firsthand from our regular, and typically baked, cheery chats about politics.
An unapologetic progressive (and active union member) with a populist bent, Winter’s openness about pot reflects the frank tone of his campaign. Eager to advocate for policies like paid family leave, investments in climate resilience and raising taxes on the rich, he has also proven adept at calling out Republicans - like the probable GOP nominee for Montana’s new congressional seat, Ryan Zinke, whom Winter has lambasted for, well, not actually living in Montana - and national Democratic Party figures alike.
His shit-talking has, in turn earned him, in a manner not dissimilar from former President Trump, a healthy dose of both adoration and fury. (I reached out to the respective campaigns of Cora Neumann and Monica Tranel, the two other Democrats running for the seat, as well as Zinke, for this story; none responded).
On a recent afternoon, Winter and I - along with his campaign manager and friend Blake Cilwick - sat down for an interview at the new El Cazador on South Avenue and then toured two Missoula dispensaries, Dancing Goat Gardens and Spark1. Read on to learn more about how legalization ties into Winter’s larger platform, the bills and policies he says that he’d support in Congress and why he thinks Montana Democrats have missed an opportunity to capitalize on cannabis reform.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Thanks for being up for an interview, Tom! To start things off, why did you sponsor a weed legalization bill in 2019?
Especially when you’re in the State Legislature, you’re required to be much more responsive to your constituents’ immediate requests and needs. When I knocked on doors during the campaign, the third issue I heard the most, in my district [that voted for President Trump] that I ended up winning, was legalizing recreational cannabis. Sponsoring the bill was partially a constituent service - which is my job - but I was also really animated by the criminal justice reform angle.
No one was looking at it from that angle. It's very clear that people of color and Native Americans were being victimized by the law as it was.
What was the response among your peers in the Legislature to your bill?
They didn't like it. They voted against it. They brought in state troopers to say that the streets would be paved with the blood of children.
The Legislature was really out of touch with what their constituents wanted and needed in a lot of ways. That was no clearer than around cannabis legalization. Especially in the Democratic caucus, I was constantly being told we couldn't [support legalization] because we'd be seen as hippies, and basically [that our constituents] were a bunch of scared white grandparents that couldn't talk about these issues.
Your bill called for a 32% tax on recreational cannabis. How do you justify such a high tax?
The point of the bill was to get a fiscal note, which is when the legislature uses economists to gauge [the potential] income of a bill that legislators propose. By putting the tax really high we were able to galvanize support for it.
What’s your take on how legalization unfolded here in Montana, from the voter initiative to House Bill 701?
I have problems with the legislature clearly going against the will of the voters regardless of the constitutionality of the initiative [by repealing the voter initiative and replacing it with HB 701]. That's bullshit. My concern moving forward is that legalization will be an excuse for the Republican legislature and [Governor] Gianforte to cut taxes. They're gonna see $50 million come in from weed legalization and cut taxes on rich people. That's not what people wanted. I don't want to be getting high to make sure that people with airplanes and 50,000 acre ranches get [tax refunds].
Black Cilwick: Without the legal weed bill passing, they didn't have the money for tax cuts.
If elected to Congress, which cannabis bills and policies would you support?
SAFE Banking, obviously. I'd be representing people that can legally consume marijuana, but also the businesses that provide it. We can't have them walking around with bags of cash. It's not safe, everyone knows that.
[Federal legislation] needs to be transformative for communities of color so they can be part of this new bonanza of cash that's coming. I'm not going to avoid that the way many people do. It has to open up new opportunities for people that were held down by the previous regime.
Do you think the Montana Democratic Party would benefit from being more vocal about cannabis reform?
Would they be more successful championing the issues that the people of Montana want? Yes.
Which other issues do you think the people want?
Regardless of where you land on the political spectrum, I think the government needs to be more responsive to the needs and wants of the people it governs. Weed legalization is just one part of that. Democrats miss a massive opportunity and way to do good for their constituents if they look at this as a one-off.
This needs to be part of a raft of legislation. People want to tax rich people. They don't want to use legislation to subsidize rich people’s lifestyles. They want government to work for them and pay for things like child care and paid family leave.
Legalizing weed shouldn't just be something cool we did in 2020. It should be the beginning of a progressive groundswell of support for activist government. I hope this is the tip of the spear of government that will work for people’s actual wants, not for what legislators who spend most of their time in fucking country clubs are afraid to give them.
What’s your response to the argument that active lawmakers shouldn’t consume cannabis?
I wasn't going to the legislature high. Should legislators be able to have a beer, and be real humans? We need to be open about our actual human experiences instead of talking about things like a candidate [isn’t a real person].
I smoke weed. Our constituents smoke weed, too. Why do you think I wrote the bill?
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Well, that’s all for today, folks. Thanks again for reading and please feel free to share the newsletter with your friends, family and fellow connoisseurs!