Election results show support for taxes and local marijuana sales
Two years after Montana voted to legalize marijuana for adult use, residents of more than a dozen counties and cities returned to the polls this month to consider local action to ban marijuana. sales or add taxes on marijuana for adult use and for medical purposes.
Taken together, the metrics indicate continued statewide interest in capitalizing on Montana’s booming cannabis industry. Although several campaigns to ban sales for adult use were successful, they tended to take place in rural areas and small towns. All of the tax measures for adults have passed, and almost all of the votes on the medical marijuana tax have also passed.
Montana institutes a 20% flat tax on adult use statewide and a 4% tax on medical marijuana sales. The local option taxes that Montanans voted in this election cycle all add a 3% local tax to adult use and/or medical sales.
Between the state’s launch of its adult cannabis program on Jan. 1 and the end of September, vendors sold $228 million worth of cannabis in Montana. Two-thirds of those sales are from adult customers and the rest from patients using medical marijuana. The state generated more than $33 million in sales tax revenue during the same period.
All counties that have approved a local tax will share the resulting revenue equally: the county keeps half; 45% of the money is divided between the municipalities of the county; and 5% is returned to the State to cover administrative expenses.
“It’s not a partisan issue in Montana. Montanans of all political stripes supported legalization in 2020 and they continue to do so, as evidenced by last night’s votes in favor of marijuana taxation and sales,” said Pepper Petersen, President of Montana Cannabis. Guild, at Montana Free Press.
THE GRANITE COUNTY EXCEPTION
The most dramatic marijuana vote of Election Day took place in Granite County, where residents narrowly rejected a measure, by a margin of 52 to 48, to turn the country from “red” to “ green”.
The campaign followed a long battle between supporters and opponents of legal cannabis. In 2020, county residents voted to legalize cannabis for adult use; during the 2021 legislature, lawmakers used this metric to determine which Granite County would allow sales.
In the primary elections in June, however, residents voted to reverse the trend and ban sales for adult use. The move forced the county’s only retailer — Top Shelf Botanicals in Philipsburg — to suspend adult sales in September. (The store can continue to sell marijuana to state-certified medical patients.)
Store manager Kendrick Richmond led the charge to relegalize sales in the county, along with his wife, Justine.
While Granite County opted out this week not to allow sales, residents passed separate measures to tax both medical marijuana and adult-use sales, should the county reinstate the latter at a later date.
Across Montana, the Dawson County Clerk and Recorder’s Office confirmed that the small town of Richey also voted to ban the sales. Sixty-four residents supported the ban and 32 opposed it.
GREAT FALLS VOTE FOR SALES
In Great Falls, residents voted by a margin of 52 to 48 to allow cannabis sales within city limits. The decision follows a court case that allowed a marijuana business to open within the city limits unless voted otherwise.
Cascade County, home to Great Falls, has also passed local option taxes on medical and adult-use cannabis sales, with wider markups. The small town of Cascade, on the other hand, voted overwhelmingly to ban sales for adult use.
MORE AFFIRMATIVE SALES REFERENDUMS IN GALLATIN COUNTY
Residents of Manhattan and West Yellowstone also considered banning sales during this week’s election, but both measures failed. The results were particularly pronounced in Manhattan, where 69% of voters rejected the ban.
Gallatin County residents have passed separate measures to tax adult and medical marijuana. The county had already passed the same measures in the June primary election, but an administrative misfire necessitated an overhaul.
DEER LODGE CHOOSES AND CHOOSES
Residents of Deer Lodge in Powell County shared their votes on a series of very specific measures regarding marijuana.
Deer Lodge has given the go-ahead to testing labs, manufacturers and stores (including combined-use licenses reserved for Indigenous-owned businesses), but has decided not to allow any further cultivation or transport ventures. within the city limits. On Thursday, the Montana secretary of state’s website notes that the measure allowing cultivators — currently separated by just two votes — is subject to a recount.
MOST OTHER TAX MEASURES ARE SUCCESSFUL
Almost every other measure of local taxation on Montanan ballots has proven effective.
In Flathead County, an adult-use sales tax was implemented, while a separate measure to tax medical marijuana narrowly failed.
The vote in Sanders County went spectacularly: While an adult use tax passed, a measure to tax medical marijuana failed by two votes.
Madison and Mineral counties passed adult and medical sales taxes; in both cases the adult use tax was applied with much higher margins. Valley County residents also passed both taxes.
“Almost every county that could have adopted a voluntary tax has done so. There’s an air of permanence that comes with taxation,” said Petersen of the Cannabis Guild. “We feel like marijuana is here to stay in counties that have passed the local option tax.”
Max Savage Levenson is a Missoula-based cannabis beat journalist. The Montana Free Press is a Helena-based nonprofit newsroom. To read the article as it was originally published, Click here.