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Yellowstone County commissioners working on recreational-marijuana ballot measures

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Posted at 7:22 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 10:17:52-04

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County commissioners passed two initiatives to ask voters whether to allow marijuana businesses to operate in the county and tax the product sold at a 3 percent rate, said Don Jones, board chair, on Tuesday.

“It was really a close vote in the county. It was very close. There was a lot of propaganda out there that didn’t come to fruition in the Legislature. That there’s trails and different things like that are going to be funded. We believe it’s prudent to ask the voters," Jones said.

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Board of Yellowstone County Commissioners Chair, Don Jones speaks with MTN News about legalized marijuana at the commissioners meeting room inside the Stillwater Building in downtown Billings.

On Aug. 3, the county board will hold a public hearing and take public comment on the proposed ballot measures. After that, the commissioners will decide whether to put them on the Nov. 2 election ballot.

Uncertain still is the exact language of the measure, or how many measures the county will place on the ballot.

Locally, adult-use marijuana passed Yellowstone County voters by 1,142 votes and passed in Billings by more than 4,000 votes, according to a presentation made last week to the Billings City Council.

Since May, local governments across the state have been deciphering the language in House Bill 701, which outlined local government's power to implement recreational marijuana sales in the state.

Much of the authority over legal cannabis production and sales falls to individual county and city governments across the state.

During this year's legislative session, HB 701 was drafted and passed by majority Republicans in the Montana Legislature. The bill made major changes to the original initiative (I-190) that state voters passed by a margin of 57 percent or 34,1037 votes.

Jones blamed I-190 lobbyists for a "bait and switch" on the voters. I-190 stated where the state's tax revenue on the sale of marijuana would go, when the task of appropriating tax money actually falls to the state Legislature.

"You saw the advertisements out selling, 'Hey, this is going to be used for trails,' and stuff like that. And they knew full well that there was a possibility that wasn't going to be true, but they went ahead and spent millions of dollars on selling it that way," Jones said.

Jars of cannabis, whose contents ready to be sold to patients registered to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services medical marijuana program at a medical dispensary in Montana.

The initiative stated it would establish a 20 percent sales tax, with 10.5 percent going to the state's general fund and the other 9.5 percent would be, "dedicated to accounts for conservation programs, substance abuse treatment, veterans services, healthcare costs and localities where marijuana is sold."

In the end though, it was the Legislature who drafted HB 701 and its tax appropriations, not the voters.

Gov. Greg Gianforte said in May that a $6 million portion the 20 percent state tax on marijuana sold in the state will go to the healing and ending addiction through recovery and treatment (HART) Fund. HB 701 calls for 88 percent of the state's marijuana tax revenue be deposited into the general fund.

The county has the option to run an election asking voters to approve an additional three percent tax on marijuana products to be put toward the implementation of legalization. The county would receive 50 percent share of the tax revenue, and 45 percent would be distributed among county municipalities like Billings, Laurel and others, and the remaining five percent would go back to the state.

The use and possession of certain amounts of marijuana has been legal since the start of the year with the passage of I-190. With another ballot question on Nov. 2, the county government will ask the voters whether to prohibit seven different types of marijuana businesses to operate in the county borders.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are one of the seven types of businesses, and they have a tricky history in the state dating back to 2004.

Several medical marijuana dispensaries have already been cultivating, manufacturing and selling medical marijuana products to registered card holders in Yellowstone County under the Montana Department of Health and Human Services program since 2016.

Types of Marijuana Businesses

  • Cultivation - Businesses that cultivate or grow marijuana plants
  • Manufacturer - Businesses that create and sell marijuana products like edibles and/or concentrates.
  • Medical Marijuana Dispensary - Businesses that grow and sell marijuana to people with state-approved and doctor-prescribed medical marijuana card.
  • Adult Use (Recreational) Dispensary - Businesses that sell marijuana products to adults over the age of 21.
  • Combined Use License - A marijuana business offering both medical and adult use marijuana for sale.
  • Testing Laboratory - A facility designed to test the potency and safety of marijuana products.
  • Transportation - A business licensed to transport marijuana to dispensaries.

RELATED: Medical, recreational marijuana prohibition in Billings could be up to the voters again