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Recreational cannabis sales off to a booming start

by Daily Inter Lake
| April 17, 2022 12:00 AM

Recreational cannabis revenue in Montana is exceeding projections — by a wide margin.

Providers in the Treasure State have sold about $44 million in recreational marijuana products since the beginning of the year when sales first became legal. Add in medical marijuana and that total soars to $73 million year to date, according to Montana Department of Revenue data from early April.

If the current trajectory continues, the state will hit $174 million in recreational cannabis sales by the end of the year. The state budget office initially projected $130 million in 2022.

The healthy totals come as no surprise. It was just two years ago that Montana voters overwhelmingly approved legalization of recreational cannabis, with 57% supporting ballot initiative I-190.

Yet, the opposition is once again rearing its head.

According to an Associated Press report last week, an anti-marijuana group led by Billings car dealer Steve Zabawa is ramping up another campaign to persuade Yellowstone County voters to opt out of recreational sales. The group is also eying similar efforts in Northwest Montana, where they believe people will change their minds on cannabis as more and more dispensaries open.

We’re not so sure.

Flathead voters approved recreational sales by a 7 point margin in the 2020 election — and while that’s hardly a home run, it’s a substantial berth at the ballot box. Lincoln County was 55% in favor, Lake and Mineral counties 60%, and Glacier County 70%.

That’s quite the tide to turn just two short years out from the last vote, and residents should look long and hard at the consequences of turning back now.

Recreational cannabis sales are taxed at 20%, with those dollars earmarked to fund important substance abuse treatment programs, conservation initiatives and veterans services. The Legislature spent a good chunk of the last session hashing out those parameters, which were ultimately backed by a strong majority of Republican legislators.

Montana law also allows an additional 3% local-option tax on recreational sales. As of now, Missoula, Park, Yellowstone and Dawson counties have implemented the local tax. In Northwest Montana, Lake County residents are set to vote on a local tax this spring. City governments there could collectively take in $180,000 annually.

Flathead County would be wise to consider the local-option tax as well, where the crush of summer tourists could help fund big-ticket projects on the horizon as the valley’s population continues to explode.

Turning back on recreational cannabis in Northwest Montana so soon would be a big mistake. Instead of fighting to overturn the will of the voters, let’s focus on smart regulation and enforcement — and ensuring all that tax revenue is put to good use.