On June 7, Gallatin County voters approved a sales tax on medical and recreational marijuana, but an administrative error caused that election to be nullified. Gallatin County Commissioners are waiting for the revenue fund which they hope to be used for mental health.
“The cost of not funding it is what we are paying for right now,” said Maria Valdenegro, Chief Financial Officer for Shodair Children’s Hospital.
Valdenegro says mental health funding in Montana is lackluster and says statistics reflect that.
“With one of the highest suicide rates in the county and that has been sustained,” she said.
Valdenegro says that more money for mental health will improve access for people in Montana.
“Any additional funding will only help us increase our services more and maintain the ones we already have,” said Valdenegro.
Gallatin County Commissioners are optimistic that the marijuana sales tax ballot measures will pass again in November.
“We’re really hoping that this marijuana tax will pass,” says Gallatin County Commissioner, Joe Skinner.
Before the election mishap they were planning to use marijuana tax dollars to boost mental health.
“Using that money to bolster mental health services,” Skinner said.
Dr. Eric Arzbui at Frontier Psychiatry has been working on the front lines advocating for mental health in Montana.
“Nobody does well; no state does well. Investing way upstream, in prevention prevention prevention,” said Arzubi.
According to the Montana Department of Revenue based on trends for the first 5 months of legal recreational sales, Gallatin County officials estimated they would bring in $1.3 million of revenue between the 3% medical and recreational taxes each year. The county would keep 50%, or around $654,000, but now since they have to wait for another election, they are losing an estimated $218,000.
Commissioner Skinner is hopeful get people struggling with mental health the help they need right here in Gallatin County.
“The most human thing to do is to keep people here when they are in crisis,” he said.
To do that, commissioners hope to use marijuana tax dollars to increase mental health services in the county.
“Prevention services, mobile crisis is something that we want to continue and expand,” said Skinner.
Dr. Arzubi, who works with patients, sees the need for prevention services to expand across the state.
“Every time I interact with a patient here in Montana, I learn more and more and more about what our patients and our fellow Montanans need,” Arzubi said.
Dr. Arzubi hopes to keep people who need help at the forefront of the conversation.
“What is best for our fellow Montanans who are struggling; that to me needs to be at the center of our conversation,” said Arzubi.
The two marijuana sales tax questions will reappear on the ballot in November. If voters approve them once again, tax collection can only begin 90 days after the election; the earliest it can begin would be February 6, 2023.