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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Tax, Rejects Alcohol Tax Increase

Medical marijuana sign.
Flickr user Laurie Avocado (CC-BY-2)

A committee of Senate lawmakers approved a 2 percent tax on medical marijuana providers and rejected an increase to the state’s alcohol tax.

Since voters approved a statewide medical marijuana program in November, lawmakers in Helena have debated ways to fund it.

Governor Steve Bullock proposed taxing medical marijuana when he released his budget last year. A bill carried on behalf of the governor’s office to create a  6 percent tax failed in the House of Representatives earlier this week.

A Senate proposal to set the tax at 2 percent, and outline regulations in the medical marijuana, passed with bipartisan support Friday morning, with 15 amendments attached.

Great Falls Republican Brian Hoven amended Senate Bill 333 to increase how much providers must pay to be licensed:

"As we got looking about, one, where are we going to fund this bill. And secondly, we’re looking at what other states charge. Most other states are charging way more than what we, what our fee is."

Hoven’s amendment upped the license fee for providers who serve 10 or fewer patients from $1,000 to $2,000, and for providers with more than 10 clients it will increase from $5,000 dollars to $10,000.

Democratic Senator Sue Malek from Missoula expressed concern that a higher entry fee for providers will hurt businesses already struggle financially:

"They don’t have a lot of money. And now it's almost like, unless you have a lot money you don’t get to do this.”

The amendment to double medical marijuana provider license fees passed along party lines.

Senate Bill 333 was also amended to start the tax on a provider's gross sales of medical marijuana at 4 percent. The tax would then be cut in half starting in June of 2018.

SB-333 will now head to the Senate floor for debate.

The Senate Taxation committee also voted down a proposal to increase to alcohol sales to 10 percent.

Doubling the state’s wine tax was part of Governor Steve Bullock’s budget proposal last winter. After that was shot down, the 10 percent tax on all alcohol was proposed.

It failed to pass committee with all Republicans and one Democrat voting against it.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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