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Billings voters oppose recreational pot shops in Tuesday vote, overwhelmingly approve tax

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Recreational pot shops are out in Billings after voters opposed allowing storefronts and dispensaries from setting up in city limits. 

Early vote totals show 18,045 votes against allowing storefronts with 14,696 votes in favor.  

Countywide voters overwhelmingly support a 3% tax on recreational marijuana sales, with 37,185 votes in favor and 8,048 votes against. Similarly, county votes seem to approve of a 3% tax on medical marijuana, with 27,176 votes for it and 18,268 votes against. 

Tuesday's election drew 46,015 total votes, a 45.5% turnout, according to county election officials.

Legalized pot was born out of a ballot initiative approved overwhelmingly by state voters last November that was then formalized as HB 701 in the state legislature and signed into law earlier this spring by the governor.

The language in HB 701 gives county and municipal governments authority to go back to voters within their communities to ask if they want recreational pot sold at the local level.

Yellowstone County commissioners in August voted to not return to voters with the question given the ballot initiative vote in 2020. Yellowstone County voters in 2020 approved legalizing recreational marijuana narrowly with 50.7% in favor to 49.3%, a difference of roughly 1,100 votes. Within Billings itself, the margin of victory was higher by roughly 4,000 votes.

The legislation in HB 701 also divided the business of producing and selling recreational marijuana into seven categories, and gave municipalities the ability to go to voters and ask which of the seven categories they want operating within city boundaries.

Billings City Council moved in August to bring the question to voters of whether to allow recreational marijuana shops to operate in town. 

In preparation for Tuesday's vote, the city spent much of the fall crafting zoning and regulations that would dictate where and how recreational marijuana shops would operate if city voters approved the businesses. 

Last week, City Council approved its first draft of recreational cannabis regulations, which caps at four the number of storefronts allowed within city limits. It also limits the amount of warehouse space where plants could be grown to 7,500 square feet.

Businesses applying to the city to receive one of the four recreational marijuana dispensary licenses will be entered into a lottery with the recipients drawn at random.

Adult-use marijuana goes on sale in Montana on Jan. 1 and state law allows medical marijuana shops to begin selling recreational pot that day, if those shops are in good standing with their municipal authorities.

Those medical marijuana shops will then have 18 months to apply for a recreational marijuana business license if they intend to continue selling recreational pot.

Advanced Caregivers is the one active medical marijuana dispensary within Billings city limits. Yellowstone County currently has 29 medical marijuana dispensaries.

The county, which is still working out its own recreational marijuana regulations, likely won't set a cap on the number of dispensaries and will do little zoning. Unlike the city, most of Yellowstone County has no zoning, meaning nearly any kind of business can set up shop where it likes.

Billings, by contrast, has limited recreational storefronts to its industrial and heavy commercial zones.

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