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Blaine County discusses taxing recreational pot


Last updated 7/9/2021 at 12:22pm

The Blaine County Commission held a meeting Thursday to discuss possible additional taxation of recreational marijuana in the county, discussion that will likely be taking place in Hill County in the near future as well.

Blaine County Commissioner Frank DePriest said this meeting would not end with any action taken but was instead intended to be a conversation between the commission and other county entities about the issue.

“This is something we need to take a hard look at,” DePriest said.

The implementation of legalized recreational marijuana includes a 20 percent state tax which will be used to fund addiction-treatment programs, environmental conservation, state parks and veteran care.

Under the bill legalizing the substance, which will take effect in January, counties are allowed to impose an additional 3 percent tax on marijuana, half of which will go directly to the county, with another 45 percent going to municipalities, and the remaining 5 percent going to the Montana Department of Revenue.

The imposition of such a tax would require a vote by the citizens of the county, one that can be included on any county election ballot or by special election.

The consensus at the meeting appeared to be in favor of putting such a tax into a special election that would take place at the same time as the city elections scheduled for this coming November, but many details require hashing out.

“I don’t see why we wouldn’t want to tax it,” said Blaine County Undersheriff Chris Adair. “I mean, there aren’t very many things that create tax revenue for Blaine County to begin with, so why would you want to miss the opportunity?”

There was some confusion expressed by some about whether what the county would use the money for would need to be specified on the ballot, but Blaine County Attorney Kelsie Harwood said, based on her understanding, the county can use the money from the tax however it wants, and is not required to specify that in the election.

Some expressed skepticism that even proponents of, or users of, recreational marijuana legalization would be keen on imposing a tax on themselves, but it does represent revenue the county has never had before.

“Are they going to tax themselves an additional three percent when they’re getting taxed 20 percent already?” asked Blaine County Commissioner Miles Hutton. “That should be interesting.”

Those present also discussed the possibility of cities like Chinook and Harlem voting for ordinances that prohibit dispensaries from being established in city limits.

Blaine County Clerk and Recorder Tammy Williams said, based on what she’s been told, any ordinance like that would be backed up by federal law and any ordinance they make regarding the placement of dispensaries would not be superseded by recreational marijuana’s recent legalization.

Harlem City Council Member Jennifer Owens said her constituents do have some legitimate concerns and questions regarding what the city can and should do regarding such ordinances.

Owens’ primary question was whether the city can choose to allow medicinal but not recreational dispensaries, or if it’s an all-or-nothing decision.

Judge Perry Miller suggested she get in contact with the legal counsel of the Montana League of Cities and Towns, that they would almost certainly have an answer.

Owens said she and Harlem Mayor Ralph Schneider agree that the people of the city should have control over whether to allow such establishments in the city.

She said based on her interactions with people, the majority support the regulated sale of marijuana and it makes little sense to her to turn down possible revenue that can be generated through taxation.

Hill County Commissioner Jake Strissel, who attended the meeting, said the Hill County Commission has had a few conversations about marijuana taxation but no official meetings yet.

Strissel said city ordinances in Havre ban medical dispensaries in city limits and he’shopiung to talk to Havre Mayor Tim Solomon about the matter sometime in the near future.

He said dispensaries he’s spoken to don’t want to go through the tax headache of becoming recreational and will stay specifically medicinal.

DePriest said the commission will certainly hold more meetings about the issue and will look into filling the gaps in their understanding before moving forward with a possible resolution to put the tax up for a vote.

Blaine County Commissioner Dolores Plumage said she wants the community members to attend any public meetings on the matter and said their voices in this matter are valuable.

The tax could also be put on a ballot by petition, which Williams said usually requires signatures from 15 percent of voters in the area.


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