Recreational Cannabis in Montana Brings in $1.5M

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The opening weekend of recreational cannabis sales in Big Sky country brought in big profits.

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.

According to 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.”

The state is imposing a 20 percent sales tax on recreational cannabis. (Medical marijuana, for comparison, is taxed at only four percent in Montana.)

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 bill that was passed by Montana lawmakers and signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte last year after voters in the state approved a ballot initiative in 2020 legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults aged 21 and older.

Montana was one of four states where voters approved legalization proposals at the ballot in 2020, joining Arizona, South Dakota and New Jersey. 

HB 701 established a framework for the new marijuana marketplace and also established the so-called the HEART Fund, which will use revenue from the recreational pot program to fund substance abuse treatment.

“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.”

Regulators in Montana were working up until the end of 2021 to iron out rules for the new marijuana program, issuing a slate of proposals as late 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.”

Medical cannabis has been legal in Montana 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 Record that 99 percent of the customers to his shop on Saturday were there for recreational weed, not medical.

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