County considering local marijuana sales tax
During their June 21 meeting, County Commissioners will discuss whether to send the question of a three percent local option tax on marijuana to the November ballot.
The county can, if voters approve, implement a combined three percent local tax on all medical and non-medical marijuana sold in the county.
On the same November ballot, the city is planning to ask voters whether marijuana should remain prohibited within the city limits.
If approved, the county would retain 50 percent of the tax revenues, five percent would go to the Montana Department of Revenue and 45 percent would go to municipalities in the county.
According to the county, that would be split among the incorporated cities and towns based on the ratio of their population to the total county population. That would include the City of Great Falls, Belt, Cascade and Neihart, according to the county.
If approved, the tax would go into effect on Feb. 6, 2023.
During the County Commission work session, the county attorney’s office said that so far this year, the state had generated $123 million in marijuana sales, resulting in $17 million in tax revenue. For recreational marijuana sales, the state taxes 20 percent that stays with the state.
For Cascade County, Phoebe Marcinek in the county attorney’s office said that they estimate $1.6 million in marijuana sales monthly which the three percent tax would equate to about $50,000 countywide that would be split between the municipalities in the county.
The revenue numbers referenced by commissioners during their work session are not include in the agenda packet documents posted to the county website for the June 21 meeting.
Under state law, the local option tax funds can be used “for any activity, undertaking or administrative service that the county is authorized by law to perform, including costs resulting from the imposition of the tax or due to administrative burdens imposes on the county as a result of licensing or regulatory requirements,” according to the county documents.
In December, the county commission updated the zoning regulations to allow recreational marijuana only in heavy industrial districts, where medical marijuana had already been allowed under the county regulations.
At the time, Commissioner Joe Briggs said he didn’t it was practical to ban recreational marijuana in the county and that if it would be here anyway, the county may as well get some tax revenue.
The same day, Commission Don Ryan said in an email to I was surprised by Joe’s comment on revenue from the marijuana sales and that only a “nominal amount” would be generated for local governments through the local tax.
He also told The Electric that he wasn’t aware of any local discussion to pursue the local tax.
“If we got push from the public, we would probably look at it. My only fear is that too many taxes might encourage black market sales. The 20 percent might do that now, we will see. Because of the regulations and monitoring of production and sales the legal purchases are the only guarantee of ‘safe’ product that is not contaminated or laced with other harmful products,” Ryan said in the email.
Commissioners didn’t indicate whether they’d had a push from the public for a local tax or any concerns about encouraging black market sales.
Several residents have asked county commissioners to put the question of whether marijuana should be on the November ballot. The county attorney’s office determined that they believe that question must be initiated by a petition from local residents, which hasn’t been presented to the county at this point.