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Government & Politics

Question on recreational marijuana sales back up for a vote in Yellowstone County

A worker packages medical marijuana in San Francisco in 2006. City prosecutors say they'll clear thousands of marijuana convictions.

Voters in Yellowstone County will decide next year whether to overturn the legalization of recreational marijuana sales, just months after they’re set to begin.

After an almost hour-long public hearing Tuesday, county commissioners agreed to send the question of legalization back to voters during the June primary.

A statewide measure legalizing recreational marijuana sales passed in Nov. 2020: a narrow majority of voters in the county approved initiative 190, with 49.3% voting against it. A separate state law passed earlier this year allows voters to prohibit sales in individual counties.

The commission in August declined to put the question up for a vote.

“When this come before us originally I tended to agree with a lot of the people who testified here that you shouldn’t revote an issue,” Commissioner John Ostlund said Tuesday. “I think the voters are smart. I think we’ve got a very well educated electorate out there on most of the issues.”

But he said the “overwhelming support” from Billings voters to block recreational sales within city limits changed his mind.

“I believe the voters have been better educated,” Ostlund said, “and I’m going to vote for this today.”

Commissioner Don Jones voted to put the question on the ballot in August.

“I still believe that we should let the people decide this issue,” he said. “I think the voters should have that opportunity to say we don’t want this in our neighborhoods.”

The question whether to overturn approval of recreational marijuana sales will go to voters in June.

Yellowstone County is among half of the state’s counties that will allow the sale of recreational marijuana – in addition to medical marijuana, which has been legal in Montana since 2004 – beginning next month. County voters last month approved a 3% local tax on both medical and recreational marijuana sales.

Susan Stanley, who said she is part of a “small, family-owned marijuana business” in the county, urged commissioners to wait a year before putting the question up for a vote to see what kind of tax revenue sales bring in first.

“You could take that 3% local option tax and use it for bike paths, veterans, wildlife habitat, trails, water conservation, park upkeep,” she said. “I’m just saying, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”