Last week the Ravalli County Commissioners voted unanimously to place a local option for a 3% excise tax on the sale of marijuana and marijuana related products in Ravalli County on the June ballot. But this decision was not made without first considering a resolution to overturn the voters’ recent approval of recreational marijuana sales and not allow recreational sales in the county.
On Tuesday, March 8, the Commissioners met to consider a resolution to be placed on the June ballot presenting to voters the question of whether to overturn approval of non-medical marijuana operations in Ravalli County.
The county received several written comments in opposition to the ballot proposal, most calling the effort undemocratic, some even un-American.
Larry Keogh, who was present at the meeting, said he agreed that the Board of Commissioners had the right to place the issue back on the ballot, but he questioned whether it was really warranted. “Whose water are you carrying?” he asked.
Commissioner Jeff Burrows said that if he was carrying water for anyone it was for the people he had heard from after the election saying they had voted in favor of it because of the promised revenues, but they didn’t understand at the time that none of that revenue was coming to the county. He said the only way the county could get a piece of the pie was to pass a local permissible levy with a limit of 3%. Even then, he said, the county wouldn’t get all the funds. Some would go to municipalities and some would even go to the state for administrative services related to the tax.
The breakdown of the allocation of the 20% tax is:
– 20% to FWP wildlife habitat
– 4% state park account
– 4% trails and recreational facilities
– 4% nongame wildlife account
– 3% or $200,000, whichever is less, to veterans and surviving spouses state special revenue account
– $150,000 to Board of Crime Control to fund crisis intervention team training
The remaining funds (over 64%) go into the state’s general fund.
Burrows said that he served on the Darby planning board and that they were against recreational marijuana sales and members of the council and the mayor don’t want it.
“They didn’t understand at the time,” said Burrows, “that none of the revenue would come to local government.”
Commissioner Greg Chilcott agreed, stating that the voters were promised a panacea of funds related to dealing with the impacts of legalized marijuana. But the impacts will be local, he said, and the funding is not. He said that he didn’t believe that 3% of sales would be enough to meet the costs of future local enforcement issues, which includes enforcement, prosecutions and incarcerations for things like driving under the influence of drugs. He said there is also the increased crime related to cash only businesses like these.
What turned the discussion around for all the commissioners was the fact that there are already over a dozen marijuana dispensaries in the county and if the sale of recreational marijuana or non-medical marijuana were prohibited now, they would be put out of business.
Burrows claimed to be unaware that there were any marijuana dispensaries in the county. He said, after finding out there are almost a dozen, that he was concerned about the impact on those businesses. He said he thought initially they might be grandfathered in but that idea also bothered him. He said it would give them a monopoly on the business.
Deputy County Attorney Clay Leland confirmed for the board that if the ballot measure as proposed was passed in Ravalli County the businesses that were currently selling non-medical marijuana and related products would have to cease their operations.
Chilcott said that he didn’t like it when that happened to elk farmers and he didn’t think it was right when they had made good faith investments under the law in effect prior to making elk farms illegal.
Commission Chair Dan Huls said that the notion that these businesses are already operating and might have to close really bothered him.
“I see that as a taking,” he said. “I think what happened to the elk farmers was really wrong and I wouldn’t want that to happen with citizens here.” Huls said that from the law enforcement side the impacts of the new law will be felt in Ravalli County no matter which way it goes on the sales issue.
“We have Missoula, they will get it there if they can’t get it here and we will still see the consequences,” said Huls.
Sheriff Steve Holton said he came to the meeting to ask the board to support placing a 3% tax on the local sales on the ballot.
“I want to support what Huls said,” said Holton. “We know what Missoula’s status is. It does not criminalize marijuana and we will be dealing with all the issues related to it.” He said there would also be issues that come with large volumes of cash business. “It will attract criminals,” he said.
Reluctant to approve the ballot measure to overturn the approval of recreational marijuana sales, the commissioners scheduled a meeting for Thursday to consider a resolution to place an issue on the ballot to approve a local option 3% excise tax on the sale of marijuana and marijuana related products in the county.
According to Deputy County Attorney Leland, two separate issues will appear on the June Ballot. One would be to approve a 3% excise tax on the sale of non-medical marijuana and products. The second would be to place a 3% excise tax on the sale of medical marijuana. Missoula County has approved a 3% tax on non-medical marijuana but the voters declined to approve the tax for medical marijuana sales.
The way the 3% tax is allocated is also set in the law. Of the total tax collected, the county gets 50%; 45% is appropriated to municipalities on the basis of the ratio of population of the city or town to the county population; and 5% is retained by the state to defray costs associated with administering the tax.
Sheriff Holton told the commissioners on Thursday, “The cartel is alive and well in Ravalli County. But the problem is with fentanyl, amphetamines and heroine, not marijuana.” Holton said he spoke for himself and for the Hamilton Chief of Police who was unable to attend.
“This is not about marijuana,” said Holton. “It’s about identifying some funding that is sustainable for law enforcement to meet these challenges.” He called the fact that the state would enact a 20% tax to address impacts with none of it earmarked for local impacts was “ridiculous.” He urged the commissioners to place the 3% tax on the ballot, which they ultimately did.