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County will pursue tax on recreational marijuana; city enacts ordinance

The Western News | June 28, 2022 7:00 AM

The Lincoln County Commission will plan for an election this fall to pursue an additional 3% local tax on recreational marijuana.

Libby City Council asked the county to seek the tax in March. Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) said the election, to have the best possible voter participation, would likely be held in September or October.

Commissioner Brent Teske said the election must be held separately and could not be part of the general election in November.

Bennett said money from the tax would go to law enforcement or mental health services.

If the measure is approved, the county would collect the revenue, keep 50% and give the rest to other municipalities in Lincoln County, according to Libby Mayor Peggy Williams. She said Libby’s cut of the money would go into the city’s general fund.

In March, Williams said that the money collected through the additional tax — the state already taxes recreational marijuana sales at 20 percent — could help offset any repercussions of retail cannabis in Libby. When state lawmakers built the rules around the legalization of the industry, which voters approved in 2020, they made sure most of the revenue generated went back to the Helena, she said.

Williams and Bennett both agree that, if the measure is approved, while the money the municipalities would receive wouldn’t offset the repercussions, it’s better than not getting any money.

“While we don’t get any money, we will be getting repercussions,” Williams said in March. “Everybody is bracing for some effects of it that we wouldn’t get any reimbursement for.”

Also, Libby City councilors approved its marijuana ordinance at its May 16 meeting.

Dispensaries are not allowed within 500 feet of churches, schools and parks, according to the ordinance.

Among the provisions are a restriction on dispensary window signage and obstructions, essentially requiring that windows not be “covered or made opaque in any way.”

Security bars, metal screens, grates or other visible security devices, other than door locks or discrete security cameras, are not permitted on storefront exteriors.

Marijuana dispensaries must have sufficient security systems, including surveillance cameras, alarm systems on doors and windows, deadbolt locked exterior doors, and safes to store cash and marijuana products when the store is closed.

It also requires cannabis retailers to have a facade that “visually blends in with the design, style and appearance of adjacent storefronts.”

The ordinance also prohibits growing weed commercially within city limits, and proprietors could not make cannabis facilities a home business.

Sixty-three percent of Libby voters approved Montana's 2020 initiative petition fully to legalize cannabis in limited quantities for use by adults aged 21 years and older.

The petition ultimately tasked the state Department of Revenue to regulate cultivation, transportation, and the sale of cannabis and cannabis-infused products.

The department and its Cannabis Control Division are also charged with inspecting cultivation and retail facilities.

Under state law, only pre-existing medical marijuana outlets can sell recreational cannabis until July 2023. But an industry representative warned commissioners in January that in-state dispensaries could seek locations in Lincoln County.