Adult-Use Weed Is Officially Legal and Accessible in Montana
Seventeen years after Montana first legalized medical marijuana, state dispensaries can finally sell recreational weed to adults.
Published on January 4, 2022

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This New Year's Day, weed lovers braved subzero temperatures for a chance to get dibs on Montana's first-ever adult-use cannabis sales

At the stroke of midnight, medical cannabis dispensaries in Montana's “green” counties opened to the general public. Temperatures all across the state dropped well below zero this New Year's, but that didn't stop customers from forming long lines outside some of the biggest dispensaries in the state. And despite earlier concerns over supply shortages, dispensaries were fully stocked and able to meet the strong demand for legal weed.

Some shops were absolutely slammed with customers all day long, but others reported seeing more moderate demand. Lacee Monique, owner of Kannatonic Dispensary in Butte, told the Independent Record that business was “steady” on Saturday, but “not too crazy.” “This is totally a test run day,” she added. “I had no idea what to expect — how many people, how many buying cannabis as opposed to edibles.”

Montana initially legalized medical marijuana way back in 2004, and although it took a while for the program to really take hold, the state's medical pot industry is now thriving. At present, there are 392 state-licensed cultivators, 208 processors, and 437 dispensaries serving a state with only 1.1 million residents. The state's medical marijuana market is predicted to hit $160 million in sales this year, and $170 million by 2025, according to MJBizDaily.

In 2020, 58 percent of Montana voters approved a ballot initiative that legalized personal cannabis possession, limited home cultivation, and regulated retail sales. In May, state lawmakers amended the law to impose a number of new restrictions on the voter-approved measure. Under this revision, the THC content of all flower is capped at 35 percent, and edibles are capped at 100mg of THC per package. 

The amended law also delayed the start date of sales until this January, three months later than the October deadline included in the original measure. But even with this delay, Montana was still able to start selling adult-use pot only 14 months after the law passed. In contrast, some East Coast states like New York and Virginia have delayed the rollouts of their adult-use markets for two or even three years after legalization.

Part of the reason for this fast turnaround is the fact that the state has chosen to allow its existing medical cannabis businesses to service the adult-use market, rather than licensing all-new businesses. In addition to speeding the process along, this law also blocks larger multistate weed corporations from gaining too much of a foothold in the state's recreational market. After 18 months, regulators will allow new adult-use businesses to open their doors.

Unlike other adult-use states, which allow cities and towns to individually opt-out of allowing legal pot shops in their jurisdictions, Montana's adult-use measure used the popular vote to decide where adult-use retailers would be allowed to open. In the 28 “red” counties where a majority of residents voted against legalization, adult-use cannabis stores will remain completely prohibited. Legal pot shops are allowed to open anywhere in the 28 “green” counties where voters said yes to weed, though, and residents of red counties are allowed to buy weed at these establishments and bring it home.

State officials predict that legal weed shops will sell at least $130 million worth of product this year, and expect sales to reach $195.5 million once the industry is in full swing. And by 2025, MJBizDaily predicts that the market could well hit $325 million. And although there are only just over a million people living in Montana, more than 11 million tourists visit the state every year, and insiders expect that many of them will be eager to snap up some legal weed during their visit.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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