BILLINGS — Recreational marijuana appears here to stay in Yellowstone County.
Early numbers show Yellowstone voters voting against overturning approval of recreational marijuana sales, 58 percent to 42 percent. Language on the June primary ballot asked voters to vote for overturning approval of already legalized sales the state of Montana passed in the November 2020 general election by a large 57% majority, or to vote against overturning approval, which would keep recreational sales legal.
"I hope that we are done beating a dead horse," said Jason Smith, treasurer for Better for Montana. "I think the people have spoken. I hope from now on the politicians will listen."
During the 2021 legislative session, majority Republicans passed a bill giving local governments the right to hold a second election to determine whether to allow recreational sales.
In August 2021, a resolution to put the issue back to the Yellowstone County voters failed after County Commissioner John Ostlund voted against it.
"I don't think you get to re-vote every time you don't like the outcome of an election," Ostlund said.
However, Ostlund had a change of heart in December after Billings city voters chose to outlaw recreational storefronts in a November 2021 election. 18 days later, Ostlund and his fellow commissioners Denis Pitman and Don Jones all voted to put the issue on to the June 2022 primary ballot.
“After reviewing what happened in the city, with the overwhelming overturn of recreational sales, I believe the voters have been better educated and intend to vote for this today," Ostlund said.
Smith said he hoped Tuesday's result would force the commissioners to go back the other way and ask Billings voters again to allow recreational sales within city limits.
"This vote included the city and the county, and if it passed by a majority in the city, I would expect to revisit and re-vote on this to bring it back to Billings city limits," Smith said.
Yellowstone County is No. 1 in Montana for recreational marijuana sales since it became legal on January 1, totaling $12,685,854.82 through the end of May. All sales are subject to a 3% sales tax, which the county gets to keep 50% of. That means Yellowstone brought in $190,287.82 in tax revenue in the first five months of 2022.