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Ravalli voters to consider local marijuana tax in June

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Posted at 9:13 AM, Mar 14, 2022

HAMILTON — Ravalli County commissioners are going to give voters the options of deciding whether there should be a local excise tax imposed on the sale of recreational, and medical marijuana.

Continuing this week's discussion on revenue problems and costs associated with legal marijuana sales, commissioners were quick to clarify a 3% local option tax is tied specifically to marijuana sales.

"So I'm not sure how it got misunderstood, but make sure that it's clarified that it's a 3% tax on the retail sales of recreational or medical marijuana, depending on how the ballot language goes," Commissioner Jeff Burrows said at the top of Thursday's meeting.

"But it doesn't extend the property taxes. It doesn't extend it to sales taxes on gasoline or food or anything else," stated Commission Dan Huls.

But the owner of one of the biggest dispensaries in the valley told commissioners, while he understands the county's concerns over costs, he wondered whether a new tax was the best way to approach the problem.

"Other places where the taxes are really high, like our state, are starting to realize that those high taxes were a bad idea," Heirloom Remedies owner Tayln Lang told the board. "And places like California and other places where the taxes were really high are starting to reduce those taxes because they're seeing a really robust black market and illegal market. They can't really compete with it."

Lang, the first to sell medical marijuana in the valley 5-years ago, says the last year waiting for recreational marijuana sales was financially challenging. But now, with the state's new rules in place, he's looking forward to a more stable business environment.

"The same people that were using marijuana before are using it now. The difference is that we're giving them a legal option and a place to go where they don't have to break the law," Lang explained.

"And it's important for us to be able to support those businesses like mine. Because I provide a product that's safe. That's tested. That they know exactly what it is. It's labeled correctly. You know, it's a much safer product than something that was grown in Joe's garage down the street."

But Sheriff Steve Holton said the question isn't marijuana use. It's the cost of making sure the impacts of legalization are covered, "to me, this isn't about marijuana. This is about identifying dedicated and sustainable funding."

And that's why commissioners will place the 3% optional tax on the June Primary ballot, asking voters to carve out a local funding source with the state taking so much.

Commissioner Greg Chilcott complained again that the state was taking all of the tax proceeds, "but gave us literally nothing out of their 20% that they're excising."

"I think the breakdown of the taxes is not fair," Burrows agreed. "That 20% goes to the state."