Montana's medical marijuana program is on the road to recovery after a majority of the state's residents voted to expand the program last November. Medical marijuana was originally approved in the state in 2004, but the state legislature has been fighting to limit or repeal the program ever since. Last year, a state Supreme Court decision forced dispensary owners to shut down their operations by the end of August.
But in November, 58% of voters approved Initiative 182, which has allowed the program to expand again. The law had previously limited medical cannabis providers to only serving three patients apiece. Initiative 182 did away with this limitation, and providers are now able to expand to serve hundreds of patients.
“We never shut down,” said Charlie Gaillard, owner of Lone Peak Caregivers dispensaries. “We continued to operate as per the law on a three-patient limit. Our operation was severely scaled back, but now, things are going well.” Gaillard estimates that 100-200 patients are now registered with his dispensaries, with another 40-60 applications being processed.
“It’s a revival of the MMJ program here in Montana,” said Rich Abromeit, who reopened his Montana Advanced Caregivers dispensary in early December. “We’re starting to serve more and more patients each week.” In November, the number of registered MMJ patients in the state had dropped to 7,558. By February, the number had jumped to 11,487. Although still falling short of Montana's peak of 30,000 registered patients in 2011, the program seems to be on the rebound.
The state Department of Health and Human Services is planning to issue new industry rules this summer, and legislators have proposed a bill to further regulate the MMJ industry. “Just like in any industry, I think you’re going to see existing businesses expand and you’re going to see new people trying to come in,” Gaillard believes.