The Billings Gazette reports
Proposed funding to allow the state to administer the recreational cannabis program approved by Montana voters last November took a nearly 50% hit Wednesday, after a legislative subcommittee recommended deep cuts to the budget.
The General Government Appropriations Subcommittee recommended reducing funding for the program, which will be administered by the Department of Revenue, during its executive action Wednesday morning. Those recommendations will be reviewed by the full House Appropriations Committee, which will determine whether to include them as amendments to the budget bill.
The move follows a decision by Republicans in the Legislature last month to remove supplemental funding that would have allowed the revenue department to begin laying the groundwork for the program this budget year. Money to begin implementing Initiative 190 will likely not be available to the department until the new fiscal year starts July 1 under the budget lawmakers must pass this session.
As originally proposed, the recreational cannabis program’s two-year budget would have included about $17.7 million to hire up to 75 full-time staff to oversee the program, of which 48 could be hired in the first fiscal year. Under the amendments approved by the subcommittee, the number of full-time employees shrinks to just 12, with a two-year budget of about $9.6 million.
Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, said the change was based on research of other states that had implemented similar programs. In Colorado, he said, the recreational cannabis program initially budgeted for 55 full-time staff, but ultimately only hired 38 staff members.
He added that there are already 22 state employees in the Department of Public Health and Human Services who oversee the licensing and operation of the state’s medical marijuana program.
“Given the fact that most of, if not all, of the initial applicants for licenses in the adult-use marijuana industry will come from medical marijuana providers … our belief is with the 22 we currently have, and with these numbers, we’re going to be able to handle that program on the adult-use side,” Tschida said.
Those with existing licenses to sell medical marijuana have the first shot at applying for licenses on the recreational market.
Operating expenses and funding for equipment — about $7.5 million over the biennium — would remain untouched under the proposed changes.
The recommendation passed unanimously, although Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, recommended waiting on the decision until a revenue department representative was available to discuss the change. The committee chairman, Rep. Dan Bartel, R-Lewistown, said the change could be discussed more fully before the full House Appropriations Committee.