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Montana Rec Access in Jeopardy With Upcoming County Votes

billings rejected authorized recreational marijuana stores

Upcoming cannabis votes and the usual political squabbles we have become so accustomed to in the cannabis industry may be the downfall of Montana’s recently developed and steadily growing legal cannabis industry. The state’s cannabis market generated a whopping $43.5 million in its first three months of operation, and that number is expected to grow to $215 million, possibly more, in sales this year.

In November of 2020, Montana voted to legalize adult-use cannabis; however, state lawmakers delegated the approval of recreational cannabis sales to governments on the county and municipal levels. This could prove disastrous for recreational sales in the upcoming county votes.

The Cannabis Voting Situation

Yellowstone County, the most populated county in Montana, will be placing the matter of adult-use recreational cannabis on the ballot come voting in early June, which was a unanimous decision of the county’s commissioners. 

Last November, voters in Billings (the largest city in Yellowstone county as well as the county seat) rejected a ballot issue that would have authorized recreational marijuana stores within city borders by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin in an off-year election.

Should Yellowstone County vote against recreational adult-use cannabis on June 7th, recreational sales could take a significant hit, and this will likely be the case. It seems that Montana is following California’s lead in leaving cannabis accessibility and legality issues up to local governments, which could lead to an outright ban on marijuana sales in many localities throughout the state. This will greatly impact cannabis sales within the state on a whole as each locality has its own cannabis market and contributes to adult-use legal cannabis sales.

Cannabis Sales In Montana

In the first quarter of legalized adult-use cannabis in Montana, Yellowstone County made up 6 percent of Montana’s total recreational cannabis sales. This puts them in second place for total cannabis sales revenue, after Gallatin, with a total of $7 079 266 in sales. That’s an even more impressive number when you take into consideration the fact that voters forced recreational stores outside city limits when adult-use cannabis was prohibited.

In the first three months of 2022, the state made $72.9 million in combined recreational and medical sales, with recreational sales accounting for $43,5 million. As the tourist season begins and Montana’s summer population grows, monthly sales are expected to rise.vote

According to the 2022 MJBiz Factbook, recreational marijuana sales will be between $215 million and $265 million this year, with the total recreational and medical sales estimated to range between $330 and $405 million.

Changes to The Cannabis Sales Model in Montana

Montana’s county sales model will cause a fluctuation in these predicted numbers. Montana lawmakers developed a “dry”-county system to control and prohibit recreational sales after the Marijuana Legislation Initiative (I-190) passed with nearly 57 percent of the vote in 2020.

Counties that voted no on I-190 were labeled “red” and barred from selling recreational marijuana, though medical sales would still be allowed. Recreational cannabis sales would be permitted in “green” counties (those that voted in favor of I-190).

The majority of Montana’s 1 million population live in “green” counties, with little over 44,000 individuals living in counties where recreational or medical marijuana is not legal. Therefore, more than 90% of Montana’s population has access to recreational marijuana sales in their home counties despite a half red map. This number is raised to 96 percent when taking into account medical cannabis sales. 

Near the state’s eastern border with North Dakota, Dawson County became “green” after a special election in December, with 55 percent of voters approving recreational marijuana sales.

In the first quarter, Dawson reported a little more than $900,000 in recreational sales, which is significant given that border counties like Dawson outperformed others in terms of population.

It is concerning that Yellowstone County may follow Billings in their decision to ban adult-use recreational cannabis come the June vote. It makes up a more significant part of Montana’s overall cannabis sales and revenue. This is a massive setback for the local cannabis industry.

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