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Recreational Cannabis in Montana Brings in $1.5M

Big gains were realized in Big Sky’s opening weekend for recreational cannabis sales.

That’s according to Montana’s Department of Revenue, which said that cannabis sales brought in more than $1.5 million last weekend, the first days that the state’s legal weed market opened for business.

The following is an extract from the Helena Independent Record, the “Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning projected $130 million in recreational sales in 2022, climbing to $195.5 million in 2023 once the moratorium on new businesses ends.”

A 20 percent sales tax is being imposed by the state on recreational marijuana. Montana’s medical marijuana is only taxed at four percent.

Kristan Barbour, an administrator with the revenue department’s Cannabis Control Division, told the Independent Record that the “rollout of the adult-use program went off without any issues from the department’s supported IT systems.”

“We were able to successfully verify with (the) industry that our licensing and seed to sales systems were working on Friday to ensure a successful launch on Saturday, January 1, 2022. The successful launch was a result of staff’s hard work and planning over the past six month to meet the challenges of implementing HB 701,” Barbour said in a statement to the newspaper.

HB 701 was the Montana bill passed and signed by Governor Greg Gianforte. This was after the voters of Montana approved a 2020 ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults 21 years and over.

Montana joined Arizona, South Dakota, New Jersey as the four states in which voters approved legalization measures on 2020’s ballot. 

HB701 provided a framework and funding for the development of a marijuana market.

“From the start, I’ve been clear that we need to bring more resources to bear to combat the drug epidemic that’s devastating our communities,” Gianforte said at the time. “Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new support to Montanans who want to get clean, sober and healthy.”

Sales began on New Year’s Day, with local television station KTVH reporting that an “estimated 380 dispensaries in 29 counties are now able to sell marijuana to both medical and recreational customers.”

Montana’s regulators worked up until 2021 to finalize rules for the new pot program. A slate of proposals was issued as recently as October. Barbour said at the time that the goal of the proposals was “really to be business-friendly and to try to work with the industry in a fashion that makes the rules adaptable to their current business structure and that they’ll be able to evolve without a whole lot of pain.”

Last month, members of the state’s Economic Affairs Interim Committee approved a slate of the proposals. 

Montana took the plunge

When recreational pot sales kicked off in Montana on Saturday, there were eager customers waiting to make history (and maybe alleviate their New Year’s hangovers with some bud).

The Independent Record reported that some “dispensaries in Helena had lines of people packed inside to avoid cold temperatures, while others saw a small but steady stream of foot traffic through noon.”

Montana has legalized medical marijuana since 2004. J.D. “Pepper” Petersen, the owner of the Cannabis Corner dispensary in Helena and a leading advocate for the 2020 legalization campaign, told the Independent RecordOn Saturday, 99 percent of his customers came to the shop for recreational marijuana and not for medical reasons.