City Club of Missoula held their monthly panel presentation via ZOOM on Monday with reporter and anchor Jill Valley as the moderator.

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January 1 marked the official start of legal sales of recreational marijuana, specifically in Missoula.

First to speak was Kate Cholewa, Government Affairs specialist for the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, who described the transition from strictly medical marijuana to legalized recreational sale and use.

“In late 2009, under (President) Obama, Eric Holder, the Attorney General, put out the Ogden memo which said the Feds were not going to interfere with people following state laws when it came to marijuana so people felt more comfortable,” said Cholewa. “Also, that's when the traveling clinics emerged in Montana. So, after five years and 3,900 card holders, suddenly you are getting 1000 people signed up in a weekend. So in a little over a year, those numbers grew to over 30,000 card holders and the number of caregivers, which were the people who sold medical marijuana at the time, rose to about 4000.”

Now that marijuana has entered the mainstream market, Courtney Cosgrove, senior cannabis attorney of the Montana Department of Revenue’s Cannabis Control Division, described the initial revenue estimates.

“The estimated revenue so far?” she asked. “I have numbers through January 16th, and as you can see medical marijuana just over $5 million, with recreational at about $7.2 million. So this is $1.6 million roughly in estimated taxes to date. Of course no one has filed yet because these are quarterly taxes, so these are estimates only.”

Another panel member was Faith Price, Community Preventions Coordinator with the All Nations Health Center, who was concerned about how Montana’s youth is seeing the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“I am concerned that when we legalized marijuana for adult use, then what was the message that our youth got?” she asked. “I believe that many of them are thinking, ‘well if it's okay for adults then it's also okay for me,’ which we know is not true, but we've seen that their perception of harm (from marijuana) has gone way down. And we also have seen that many teens now believe that marijuana is safer for them than alcohol or tobacco.”

Kate Cholewa with the cannabis industry association addressed a political aspect of legalized marijuana, asking how prospective candidates might address the issue.

“Is a candidate willing to support incremental reforms such as allowing banking or only comprehensive reforms that might include social equity and taxing structures?” she asked. “So, that could be if you're asking your candidates questions, especially if you're a business, you might be interested in that question as well, that’s incremental versus comprehensive.”

Others on the panel included Jennie Dixon, Missoula County Land Use Planner and Katrina Farnum, Operator of Golden Mother dispensary.

City Club is a membership only organization that presents conversations of interest on a monthly basis.

Click here to see the entire City Club presentation.

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