February 14, 2023
By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact News
Big Sky Connection - Legislation in Helena would divert more than $30 million from a program that opens access to public lands. The funds come from cannabis tax revenue. Comments from Kathy Hadley, board member, Montana Wildlife Federation; Frank Szollosi (suh-LOSS-see), executive director, Montana Wildlife
Click on the image above for the audio. In 2022, the state approved Habitat Montana funds to open up access to the Big Snowy Mountains in central Montana. (Forest Service Northern Region)
February 14, 2023 - Montana lawmakers are reconsidering how cannabis revenue is distributed for a conservation program in the state. A bill in Helena could deprive the Habitat Montana program of more than $30-million in projected cannabis tax revenue. The 2020 initiative legalizing cannabis for recreational use set aside tax revenue for conservation on state public lands through programs such as Habitat Montana, which opens up access to public lands.
Kathy Hadley, a hunter and board member of the Montana Wildlife Federation, called on lawmakers to keep voters in mind.
"That ballot initiative was passed by the voters and it seems like the legislators who are sponsoring this bill are ignoring the will of the voters," she said.
Lawmakers sponsoring the bill are following Governor Greg Gianforte's lead. He wants cannabis revenue to be used to serve veterans, strengthen treatment services and boost law enforcement. A hearing for the bill is scheduled for Thursday at 3pm.
Frank Szollosi, head of the Montana Wildlife Federation, said the state is working with a historic $2-billion surplus.
"With the big surplus that the governor and the Legislature are dealing with, we can support veterans and rural landowners and timber companies without raiding Habitat Montana," Szollosi said.
He added the state recently used Habitat Montana funds to improve public access to nearly 100,000 acres in the Big Snowy Mountains.
Hadley said the program has become increasingly important as more people come to Montana and land values increase, and added that is putting more pressure on public and private lands.
"If we have Habitat Montana, that helps alleviate some of the pressure by providing more access to public lands and more opportunities for hunting on private lands - at the same time, helping agriculture producers stay on their land," Hadley said.
Disclosure References Citation: Revise distribution of marijuana revenues Montana Legislature 12/3/22