The state started the new year off with a bang as Montana recreational dispensaries opened their doors for the first time. Big Sky Country’s opening weekend brought in over $1.5 million in sales, highlighting just how ready the people were for adult-use cannabis.
We’ve compiled everything you need to know to get a better idea of the Treasure State’s newest industry.
History of cannabis laws in Montana
The Montana Medical Marijuana Allowance Initiative, or I-148, was approved by Montana voters in 2004. This allowed patients with debilitating medical conditions to produce, possess, and use cannabis.
The law remained in place even after an attempted repeal passed in both houses of the legislature in 2011. Former Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed the repeal, saying, “I’m not a doctor, but we have heard from doctors and patients that this medicine helps them.” Following the repeal, the legislature imposed stricter regulations on the program that shut a lot of patients out.
Approving adult-use cannabis in Montana was not as long and arduous a process as other states have experienced. In January of 2020, activists submitted Montana I-90, a bill to legalize cannabis use and possession in limited quantities. The ballot initiative passed on November 3rd. January 2021 was the first day for legal possession and use of limited amounts, and exactly a year later, dispensaries began ringing up new customers.
A closer look at Montana cannabis laws in 2022
Montana cannabis laws are fairly lenient when compared to some other states. Adults 21 and over may legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis at a time. While carrying between one and two ounces of cannabis is not legal, Montanans only face a civil infraction and a fine on their first two offenses.
Before January 1st, 2022, the only way to legally obtain recreational cannabis in Montana was to cultivate it yourself. The state allows residents to grow up to two mature plants and/or two seedlings per adult, with a maximum of four plants per household.
Medical marijuana users in the state may grow up to four mature plants and four seedlings. Qualified medical marijuana patients can possess up to one ounce of cannabis – the same amount allowed for recreational use.
How are recreational sales going?
Currently, there is not a lot of Montana cannabis sales data to reference. Still, we know that the state brought in $1,566,980 in its first weekend, providing $313,396 in tax revenue for Montana. A 2020 assessment from the University of Montana projected the state would bring in over $236 million in tax revenue by 2026. The state collects 20% tax on retail sales, though local jurisdictions may tax up to an additional 3%. Medical marijuana sales remain at a 4% tax.
Sales rolled out in 29 different counties, while an additional 27 counties have placed a ban on recreational cannabis. The bans are dependent on whether individual counties voted in favor of or against recreational cannabis.
Roughly 90% of the state’s population is located in areas that approved recreational cannabis, so the divide is not expected to have an impact on sales.
Does Montana have a cannabis social equity program?
Montana doesn’t appear to have any social equity program in place or in the works. The state is set to create a drug court dedicated to expunging marijuana-related convictions, but there is no program in place to make entering the legal cannabis industry easier for communities most impacted by the War on Drugs.
The state is also offering indigenous cannabis opportunities by issuing combined-use licenses for cultivation and sale to each of the eight federally-recognized tribes in Montana or to businesses majority-owned by a tribe. The licensees may operate within 150 air miles from the boundaries of the reservation or service area so long as other licensing conditions are met. The reservation or service area must also be located in a county that allows recreational cannabis.
While these items may be a start, they barely scratch the surface of necessary moves to ensure social equity in the cannabis industry.
Cannabis licensing regulations in Montana
Montana’s Department of Revenue will issue separate licenses for cultivation, manufacturers, dispensaries, transporters, and testing laboratories. Employees working in any part of a marijuana business will also require a work permit.
From January 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023, only Montana medical marijuana licensees (or those with a pending application) by November 3, 2020, will be issued any recreational cannabis license. After 18 months, others may apply to join the industry.
As far as what licensees can produce and sell, adult-use edibles may contain up to 10 mg of THC per serving and up to 100 per package. Flower may not exceed 35% THC content, and topicals cannot contain more than 6% THC and no more than 800 mg of THC per package. Capsules, suppositories, and patches may contain more than 100mg and up to 800 mg of THC per package.
Concerns about medical marijuana access
While it’s too early to gauge the long-term effects, some people worry that access to medical marijuana will become limited because of recreational sales.
Pepper Petersen, president, and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild and medical marijuana provider has been advising patients to stock up in case of a cannabis shortage. He believes that dispensaries are bound to run out of weed in the short term.
Since many dispensaries now serve medical and recreational users, this could become a reality. Montana does not require dispensaries to keep a certain number of products set aside for medical users, so everyone is competing for the same products.
Montana cannabis brands to watch
Though currently limited to existing medical marijuana licensees, Montanans have a wide variety of brands to choose from. Here are some that caught our eyes:
The folks at 710 Montana have been delivering quality cannabis to medical users since 2009. Today, their doors are open to recreational users as well. They produce small-batch cannabis in all forms, from concentrates and vapables to edibles, flower, and topicals.
High Road Edibles
Started by former college roommates with combined chef and business experience, High Road Edibles has been around since 2019. A leader in Montana edibles, their line of infused cannabis products includes Unwind, Inspire, and Recharge mints and gummies, all wrapped up in eye-catching, sophisticated tins. They also offer infused chocolate bars.
Boasting clean, sustainable, and organic cannabis, Collective Elevation offers a diverse product selection, including cannabis capsules, THC edibles, topicals, flower, concentrates. All of their cannabis is grown in Bozeman, though you can also buy Collective Elevation products at their Billings, Butte, and Missoula dispensaries.