Marijuana issues back on the ballot in many Montana counties this June

Posted at 7:33 PM, Apr 27, 2022

HELENA — Initiative 190, 2020’s ballot measure on marijuana legalization, wasn’t the end of that issue going before Montana voters. Numerous local votes on marijuana are coming up later this year.

Last week, state analysts told lawmakers during an interim committee meeting that 14 counties – including almost half the state’s population – will be voting on marijuana-related ballot measures this June.

In two counties, voters will decide whether to restrict recreational marijuana operations. Yellowstone County will vote on banning all adult-use marijuana businesses, after county commissioners placed the issue on the ballot. Voters in Billings already banned adult-use dispensaries within city limits last year.

In addition, Granite County will consider whether to prohibit adult-use dispensaries, after residents collected petition signatures. Both counties currently allow recreational sales because majorities there voted for I-190 in 2020.

Steve Zabawa, a Billings businessman who has been a prominent opponent of marijuana in Montana in recent years, says his SafeMontana organization has formed county chapters to back the measures. He said he believes voters may reconsider their support of legalization because the state significantly changed how the funding will be used from the original plan in I-190.

“Everybody was promised the world, and that didn’t happen,” he said.

Much of the money will now be directed to the HEART Fund, a program championed by Gov. Greg Gianforte, to fund substance abuse prevention and mental health treatment.

The Montana Department of Revenue’s list of licensed dispensaries identifies around 40 adult-use dispensaries active in Yellowstone County and just one in Granite County – Top Shelf Botanicals in Philipsburg. Kendrick Richmond, who manages that dispensary, told MTN he believes recreational sales haven’t caused any issues, and he’s optimistic Granite County voters won’t shut them down.

“I just don’t see anything but positivity out of what we’re doing,” he said.

In 12 other counties, voters will consider whether to implement 3% local option taxes on recreational sales, medical sales, both or neither. They include Big Horn, Blaine, Carbon, Gallatin, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Powell, Ravalli, Richland, Roosevelt, Rosebud and Silver Bow.

Four counties have already approved local taxes. They will receive their first payments from the state in June. Counties will keep half of the revenue, then distribute 45% to local cities and towns, based on their population. The state will keep the remaining 5% for administration.

In Yellowstone and Missoula Counties, local option taxes went into effect Jan. 31. The state estimates the total local taxes for Yellowstone County will total $252,963 based on recreational and medical sales in February and March.

Missoula County only approved a tax on recreational marijuana and is set to receive $125,662 for the same period.

Park County, where the local tax took effect Feb. 11, could bring in $14,327 from March sales.

In Dawson County, the local-option tax took effect April 1, and there are no sales figures available yet.

The state has already identified at least five other counties that could have marijuana-related decisions on the ballot in November.