This month, lawmakers in the state have rejected the first budget request to fund the recreational cannabis program, which was for $1.35 million. Because of this, Montana may not make their deadline to get cannabis up and running.
To justify the money they asked for, the budding recreational cannabis industry claims it needs the funds to pay for a department of 20 people working full time in order to handle things like licensing and managing a newly legal industry.
“On November 3, 2020, Montana voters approved initiatives regarding the sale, possession and taxation of marijuana for adults 21 and over,” the department claims in a special message on the new initiative that they have posted on their website. “Under I-190, the Montana Department of Revenue will license and regulate the cultivation, transportation and sale of marijuana and marijuana-infused products, and will inspect premises where marijuana is cultivated or sold.”
Obstacles In Montana
While Montana legalized cannabis back in November for all state residents, the initiative may not meet its deadline which said that license applications should all be accepted by the first day of 2022. As such, the industry must be ready to pre-launch then and pivot to a full market with sales set up in late 2022 or 2023.
And, while the amount they’re asking for doesn’t seem to be an exorbitant sum considering the amount of money it would take to launch a whole new regulatory body, Rep. Bill Mercer, a Republican and former attorney, called the ask a “huge tranche of money” and promptly rejected the proposal. It lost at a rate of 23 to 2.
“There’s a lot of work ahead before the first legal sale of non-medical marijuana in Montana, and before the first license is issued,” said Gene Walborn, director of the department, in a conversation with NBC Montana about the newly accepted regulations. “We look forward to working with the public and all interested parties as we develop guidelines around this new industry to move it forward, while also protecting public safety and raising revenue for the state of Montana.”
However, it’s not just cannabis advocates who think the sum of money is reasonable and needed. Kurt Alme, who serves as budget director for Governor Greg Gianforte, claimed that this amount of money is necessary to make sure that the deadline is met for the new, recreational program.
Additionally, many are getting frustrated because the amount of tax revenue that cannabis could bring in is so much greater than the amount of money initially being asked for. New Approach Montana, the advocacy group that backed cannabis legalization, in partnership with a University of Montana study, estimates that by 2026, the state will have made $236 million in tax revenue from the cannabis industry. In the first year alone, recreational cannabis can bring in as much as $217 million.
While the industry is still legal in Montana, the biggest and most important step for legalization in any state, it remains to be seen how quickly they can get off the ground and get the funding they need to set up the new governing body. When they do, things can truly get rolling in Montana.