Montana lawmakers deny money to set up recreational cannabis program

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Montana lawmakers rejected a $1.35 million budget request to fund the state’s recreational cannabis program, raising uncertainty about the program’s ability to meet its deadlines.

The state revenue department had requested the money to set up a department of 20 full-time employees, according to the Associated Press.

Montana voters approved a ballot initiative in November to legalize an adult-use marijuana market with no license caps but with residency requirements.

The initiative calls for license applications to be accepted on or before Jan. 1, 2022. Sales are expected to launch in late 2022 or early 2023.

Republican state Rep. Bill Mercer, a former U.S. attorney, reportedly characterized the request as a “huge tranche of money” and sponsored an amendment to reject it. The House Appropriations Committee turned down the request by a 23-2 vote.

Kurt Alme, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s budget director, said the money is needed to ensure the recreational marijuana program deadlines are met.

New Approach Montana, the committee that ran the legalization campaign, has stressed that a University of Montana study estimates that $236 million in tax revenue will be generated from legal marijuana sales by 2026.

The university projects rec marijuana sales of $217 million in the first full year the program is operational.