Think of it as weed whiplash.
In November 2020, residents of Granite County voted to legalize adult-use marijuana by a margin of 55-45. According to House Bill 701, the Legislature’s subsequent marijuana framework bill, that vote established Granite as a “green” county that permits sales.
Then, in an about-face, Granite County residents voted during primary elections this June to prohibit marijuana sales within county lines by a vote of 53-47.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Within a few days of the June vote, Kendrick Richmond — the manager of Philipsburg’s Top Shelf Botanicals, the county’s sole dispensary — began gathering signatures to give voters yet another opportunity to reconsider.
On Aug. 8, the deadline for submitting qualifying signatures to the county election administrator, Richmond proved successful. The Granite County Clerk and Recorder’s office confirmed Monday that Richmond gathered enough valid signatures from Granite County residents to put a re-legalization measure on the November ballot. He needed 375.
The legalization question will appear alongside two additional measures on the county’s November ballot: one to add a 3% tax to medical marijuana sales within the county, and another to add a 3% tax to recreational marijuana sales.
The taxation measures did not require a signature-gathering campaign to appear on the ballot. They were added by county officials.
“It was surreal this morning when I got the call. I yelled out loud!” Richmond told Montana Free Press. “It’s been a crazy ride and something I hope I never have to repeat.”
Steve Zabawa, the founder of Safe Montana — the organization behind the June repeal campaign — made the argument to MTFP that opt-in measures rely on misleading wording, like “non-medical marijuana” in order to pass. “The majority of Montanans, especially in Granite County, do not want recreational marijuana dispensaries,” he said.
On Jan. 1, 2022, adult-use recreational marijuana will become available for purchase in Montana. We’ve put together a one-stop guide to answer the most common questions about the new industry, from possession limits to travel tips and everything in between.
Richmond, who moved to Montana two years ago, told MTFP that he relied on fellow proponents in the community to help gather the necessary signatures.
“Especially because I’m a new person in town, I certainly do not have the pull or the reputation to reach people. I was heavily reliant on others. What can I say? They came through,” he said.
Asked about his strategy for the general campaign in November, Richmond expressed cautious optimism that a potentially larger turnout in the general election and additional voter interest in the tax measures could help flip Granite County back to green.
“I know more people will be looking at this,” he said. “It bodes marginally well for me.”
Neither Richmond nor the Granite County Elections Office could offer a timeline for a reversal to legal sales if the campaign wins in November.
Regardless of the vote, Top Shelf must cease adult-use sales by Sept. 4. It can continue to make sales to medical marijuana patients.
This story was updated Aug. 9, 2022, to include comment from Steve Zabawa of Safe Montana, the organization behind the June repeal campaign in Granite County.
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