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Lake County to vote on marijuana tax

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LAKE COUNTY — Recreational marijuana has been legal in Montana since January 1, and medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2004, but neither are taxed locally in Lake County. That could change on election day. 

Voters will decide whether to impose a 3% local tax on the sale of recreational and medicinal marijuana. Currently, the state has a 20% tax on recreational cannabis, and a 4% tax on the medicinal kind. 

As of April, more than $98 million of marijuana had been sold so far in the state for 2022, generating more than $13.5 million in revenue for state government. 

So far, four counties have opted to impose a local tax: Dawson, Missoula, Yellowstone, and Park Counties. The state has allowed all counties to impose an additional local 3% tax that will be apportioned with 50% going to the county, with 5% sent to the Montana Department of Revenue, and the remaining 45% split between cities and towns based on population size. Based on the population sizes of incorporated communities within Lake County, 64% of the remainder will be allocated for Polson, 25% will be allocated for Ronan, and 12% will be sent to St. Ignatius.  

“The Commissioners have not had any discussions on how any tax revenue might be used. We have plenty of needs, but without knowing what voters will decide it seems premature to determine how we might spend it,” County Commissioner Gale Decker said. 

Decker noted that the issue of taxing recreational marijuana and taxing medicinal marijuana will be presented separately on the ballot. 

“As a voter I will support the taxation of recreational marijuana only,” Decker said. “Marijuana is an alternative medical treatment and I am not ready to support taxing its use due to what it might do in the future to other alternative medical treatments such as acupuncture.” 

Decker also said there aren’t any projections on how much revenue the initiative might bring in. 

But the state is keeping a running estimated tab of how much marijuana has been sold monthly. Through April, the state estimates that more than $1.8 million in recreational and medicinal marijuana has been sold in Lake County. Recreational sales have dwarfed medicinal sales. In April, for instance, there was an estimated $385,447.09 of recreational marijuana sold in Lake County. By contrast, the state estimates $88,874.98 of recreational marijuana was sold. 

Polson City Manager Ed Meece told the City Commission in December 2021 that he would expect the revenue to hit the county’s coffers soon after the election if it is passed. 

“I’m guessing that we start collections in August of 2022, about a month into the next fiscal year,” Meece told the commissioners. 

During that initial approval by the commission, Commissioner Carolyn Pardini was critical of why it took so long to get the issue on the ballot, as other counties have already been collecting revenues for several months. 

“If we had passed this in November, we would have been collecting revenue sooner,” Pardini said. 

She said she supported the move, based on what she had seen in visiting Spokane, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2012. 

“I think over time this will be a significant dependable revenue stream for the county and the city,” Pardini said.

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