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Investing in public lands access with marijuana revenue

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Montanans are famous for investing in the outdoors and over the years, we’ve found unique and trailblazing ways to do it. We enacted some of the first hunting and fishing licenses and bag limits, established game preserves and created programs like Habitat Montana that increase access to landlocked public lands, help Montana’s family farms and ranches fund conservation easements that protect land in perpetuity and create permanent hunter access.

This year, Montanans have another unique and first of its kind opportunity to support the outdoors, wildlife and public lands access by voting yes on both CI-118 and I-190.

Following in the footsteps of 11 other states, Montana voters have the opportunity to legalize recreational marijuana for people over the age of 21 by passing both CI-118 and I-190. The Montana effort to legalize marijuana differs from other states, though. Roughly 50% of the revenue generated from recreational marijuana sales would support state public lands by funding efforts like Habitat Montana. These funds are critical in order to maintain abundant wildlife populations and ensure our outdoor economy continues to thrive.

A recent study found that there are more than $60 million in unmet conservation needs in Montana. That includes funding for landowners who want to offer access for hunting and fishing. At its core, this is funding for folks who want to ensure that their kids have the same opportunities that they did when they were growing up. This is funding for new trails, better management for all wildlife, and an increase in funding for Montana’s 55 state parks. And most importantly, this funding that will ensure that Montana remains the last best place.

People who have gone out to a favorite campground or trailhead this summer have not been alone. Our outdoor spaces are filling up with folks looking for the escape and enjoyment only nature can provide. In order to continue to offer Montanans and our millions of guests an experience worth coming back for, we need to invest in our public lands. A vote for 118 and 190 is a vote to maintain and create trails, protect land for wildlife, and fund our state parks.

Early projections indicate that if these initiatives pass, Montana will collect about $36 million per year in taxes levied on recreational marijuana. That’s a significant chunk of change. $18 million would be set aside for conservation. Tourism is a multibillion-dollar enterprise in Montana, but we must be careful not to love our wild and natural areas to death. Investing $18 million per year in state park maintenance, habitat conservation, non-game wildlife conservation, better trails, and recreational opportunities will ensure everyone has a place in our public lands.

According to recent polling, 3 out of 5 Montanans support recreational marijuana use. It’s only a matter of time before we join the host of other states that have responsibly legalized recreational marijuana. Montana’s approach is unique, and fits our shared heritage well. It’s time to better fund Montana’s great outdoors by passing both I-190 and CI-118.

Public Lands Coalition for 118 and 190 is a group of Montana public lands and wildlife advocacy organizations supporting CI-118 and I-190, which legalize, regulate and tax the recreational use of marijuana in Montana for people above the age of 21. 

This opinion is signed by Kayje Booker, Wild Montana Action Fund; Aaron Murphy, Montana Conservation Voters; Frank Szollosi, Montana Wildlife Federation; and Dick Dolan, The Trust for Public Land.

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