The expectation of huge first- weekend sales seemed plausible to those in the retail marijuana space. Marijuana retailers around the state, of which there are 467 total, saw an increase of up to 500% in some areas, with gross sales reaching north of $1.5 Million. Of those 467 individual businesses, only 89 (or about 19%) are medical-only dispensaries (and would therefore not share in the big increase), according to the Montana Department of Revenue’s Licensed Dispensary List.

FUTURE LAW CHANGES LIKELY TO FUEL INCREASED SALES

According to Marijuana Business Daily, the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research forecasts a continued climb in overall cannabis sales, bolstered in part by Montana’s robust tourism industry. Another factor, however, that will almost certainly play a role in sales forecasts is a change in licensing restrictions. According to the Department of Revenue, only licensees who had obtained their license before November 3, 2021 (prior to the vote) were eligible to procure and sell marijuana for adult recreational use.

As of July 1, 2023, that all changes. On this date, anyone not convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor drug offense will be eligible to apply for a recreational sales license. Although there will likely be a flood of new applications, not all will be approved. And of those that are approved, many will not open a business due to the heavy regulatory burden they unexpectedly encounter.

Tiera Goich is the owner of the multi-location cannabis retailer Ganja Goddess GGMT. Together with her team, she operates stores in Bozeman, Livingston, Butte, Helena and Missoula, according to the chain’s website. Their busiest store, she says, is by far the Bozeman location, a fact she attributes to having been one of the first in that area to obtain a license. Overall, Goich estimates that they have seen a 300-400 percent increase in sales across the product spectrum. Although sales have (predictably) stabilized, they don’t anticipate a precipitous decline at any point going forward.

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As to the burdensome oversight and compliance rules instituted by the State of Montana, and the never-ending list of minutiae involved with getting products from the greenhouse to the display case, Goich says, “There’s so much that goes into it, so if you can’t stay on top of it that’s ultimately going to take you down. We trust our team and our ‘budtenders,’ but seeing them only one day every couple of weeks, it’s hard to have that oversight,” she said, alluding to the fact that no store is ever in absolute perfect compliance, all the time, though that is the obvious goal.

IT’S NOT LEGAL EVERYWHERE

Contrary to what many believe, recreational cannabis sale isn’t allowed in many counties. Mostly rural, these areas voted by majority rule to not allow the new law to take effect. Administration of the program state-wide has recently changed hands from the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) to the Department of Revenue (DOR), and it’s clear when you really drill down on the DOR website; there are bits and pieces of information lacking. For instance, it’s not clear as to whether individuals can still cultivate and possess the plant for personal recreational (non-medical) use in the counties where ordinance prohibits sales for recreational use.

Credit: Montana Department of Revenue
Credit: Montana Department of Revenue
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WHERE WE GO FROM HERE

As is true for just about any nascent legislation, there is not yet case law to cite, and compliance and enforcement measures lag behind commerce. Certainly, we can expect this somewhat nebulous situation to evolve over time, as new issues are discovered and addressed--not the least of which is the standard that will be applied for driving impairment, and the settled science that proves that the standard works.

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