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Yellowstone County resolution to re-vote on recreational marijuana fails

County Commissioners split vote 1-1; Pitman absent
Marijuana Legalization
Posted at 11:54 AM, Aug 03, 2021

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County voters will not get a second chance to overturn the legalization of recreational marijuana sales.

A resolution voted on by the Yellowstone County Commissioners on Tuesday that would have put the issue of legalized recreational marijuana back on November's ballot failed after a 1-1 tie. Board Chairman Don Jones voted in favor of Resolution 21-59, while commissioner John Ostlund voted against it. Commissioner Denis Pitman was absent.

"This is one of the most difficult decisions I think we've ever had before us," Ostlund said. "I don't think you get to re-vote every time you don't like the outcome of an election."

Ostlund explained he was not a proponent of recreational marijuana and did not vote for Montana I-190 in the November 2020 election, but he seemed to side with Billings resident Matthew Tucker, one of a number of residents who made a public comment at the meeting Tuesday morning before the vote.

"I'm sure it wouldn't be the best if somebody would say, 'Let's re-vote for County Commissioner,' just because we didn't like the outcome," Tucker said. "As a Montanan who voted for this, deciding to put a re-vote on would completely nullify what I stand for. In this country, making a vote counts."

Montana I-190 passed overwhelmingly, with 57% of the vote. The numbers were much closer in Yellowstone County, with I-190 passing 50.7% to 49.3%. House Bill 701, which carries the language of the original initiative, was signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte earlier this year.

Public comment was split Tuesday morning during an open session before the vote. Residents arguing to overturn the approval of I-190 in Yellowstone County pointed mostly to a rise in underage drug consumption and an increase in crime statistics in areas where recreational marijuana is legal. Billings Police Chief Rich St. John echoed those concerns.

"We certainly believe the introduction of recreational marijuana will be a significant problem for law enforcement," St. John said. "It is going to exacerbate the addiction and social problems that we're struggling to get a handle on. Introducing recreational marijuana is counter-intuitive when we know that drugs are the main driver of violent crime in Montana and Billings, specifically."

Resolution 21-60, which would allow Yellowstone County voters to approve a 3% local option tax on all marijuana sales, including medical marijuana, passed 2-0 later in Tuesday's meeting.