Locals ask Cascade County to send marijuana question to the ballot

Recreational marijuana may be on the ballot in November for whether it should remain legalized in Cascade County.

Last week, the City Commission voted to send the question of whether marijuana sales should be legal within the city limits to the voters after denying a request for an inspection for a couple wishing to sell marijuana within the city limits.

The city currently prohibits medical and recreational marijuana sales within the city limits though it was legalized in the county after a 2020 statewide ballot initiative vote.

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City officials argue that the city has self-governing powers and can prohibit marijuana as a land use through it’s zoning code as it currently does.

Cascade County voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana in 2020 with 54.73 percent voting in favor and 45.27 percent against. By the numbers, 21,747 voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and 17,986 voted against the measure, according the Montana Secretary of State records.

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Several area residents asked County Commissioners during their April 26 meeting to also consider putting the question of whether the sale of recreational marijuana should be legal on the ballot. Several argued that when the initiative was approved in 2020, voters were told the tax revenue would go to support certain programs that were later changed.

The county, city and school district do not receive tax money from recreational marijuana sales.

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The county could enact a 3 percent local option sales tax on recreational marijuana sales, but as of yet, have opted not to pursue that. Such a measure would have to go on the ballot for voters to decide.

Commissioner Joe Briggs said he didn’t believe the county had the authority to put the question of whether recreational marijuana sales on the ballot without a petition from voters.

He said he would refer the matter to the county attorney’s office for consideration.

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Yellowstone County Commissioners voted to send the question back to the voters on the June 7 ballot without a petition after the City of Billings sent the question to the ballot in November 2021 and voters decided to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana within the city limits.

Lola Sheldon-Galloway, a state legislator who lives in Sun Prairie, said that she’s concerned marijuana sales businesses would move into her area and make the frontage road there more dangerous.

Briggs told her that the current county zoning only allows marijuana sales in the I-2 Heavy Industrial districts, none of which are in Sun Prairie.

“We did that very specifically to limit where they could be,” Briggs said.

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Sheldon-Galloway also said she’s concerned that marijuana production and sales businesses would drain the power grid in the area, which she said is already spotty.

Briggs said he hasn’t heard any concerns about power outages in the Sun Prairie area or anywhere else in the county.

Beth Morrison, a substance abuse specialist, said that the marijuana industry doesn’t follow the rules and supported sending the question to the ballot.

The county is currently in litigation with a local marijuana sales shop over whether their shop is allowable since they aren’t in an I-2 district.

Montana marijuana FAQ

That litigation is currently at the Montana Supreme Court.

Julie Bass, a local resident, asked commissioners to put the question on the ballot without requiring them to do a petition.

“If we lose, we lose. But let them make the decision,” Bass said of voters.

Briggs said that if the county attorney determines that the commission can send it to the ballot without a petition, then he was supportive of sending the question to the ballot.

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He recommended that they pursue the petition anyway since then there’s no question of sending the question to the ballot.

Commissioner Don Ryan said that he was always supportive of the people’s right to vote and that if they have problems with the state laws, they should talk with legislators since the county has to follow those laws.