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Competing Montana marijuana revenue bills hinge on conservation funding

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Eric Tegethoff

(Big Sky Connection) Montana lawmakers are considering how to distribute tax revenue from cannabis sales. One measure would strip funds from the Habitat Montana program while the other would dedicate funding to conservation projects. 

Senate Bill 442 keeps funding to the program, which is critical for opening access to public lands. It also sends dollars to veterans, county roads, parks and the behavioral-health and substance-abuse program known as the HEART fund. 

Raylee Honeycutt, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said the legislation distributes funds to a variety of programs.

"We're hitting not only one portion or one segment of our state," said Honeycutt, "but this definitely will bring opportunities and have a large impact to a lot of people around Montana."

SB 442 has passed the Senate and is scheduled for a hearing in the House on Friday. 

The competing bill - House Bill 669 - cuts $30 million from funds that would have been destined for Habitat Montana over the next two years. 

It reserves $6 million of cannabis tax revenue for the HEART fund and directs the rest to the general fund.

Jocelyn Leroux, program director of the Montana Conservation Voters, said Habitat Montana is especially important as more people move to the state and more development happens.

"In order to protect our open spaces, our access to public land," said Leroux, "as we're seeing that development, Habitat Montana is really key to that."

Leroux noted that last year Habitat Montana funds were used for an acquisition that opened up more than 100,000 acres near the Big Snowy Mountains. 

Montana lawmakers are working on the competing pieces of legislation over cannabis tax revenue as the legislative session winds down.