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Feb 11, 2010 10:11 AM by Amanda Venegas

Rocky Mountain Remedy: Medical marijuana businesses growing

BILLINGS - Across Montana, the demand for medical marijuana is growing and so are the businesses that are serving them. Cities like Bozeman and Missoula are seeing storefront business pop up, especially in the last six months.

"And we began growing in my little home, we started out with twelve plants and that began the process and then it became apparent that there were many, may people who were completely unfamiliar with cannabis," Rick Rosario, President of Montana Pain Management in Missoula said.

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Meanwhile, other cities are starting to see where local government is clashing with a state law. Billings became the first city to consider regulating the business, but council members decided to table a proposed emergency ordinance indefinitely.

"It's not fair to the medical marijuana people just because it's about marijuana to put all these restrictions on us," owner Mark Higgins said at the November city council meeting.

Attorney Mariah Eastman told council members, "you cannot include medical marijuana in the category of adult businesses or it will get you in legal trouble."

However in Whitefish, city leaders voted in favor of a six-month ban, temporarily banning medical marijuana businesses from city limits until the city develops zoning rules. In Eastern Montana, the city of Roundup is following suit saying council members have determined medical marijuana businesses could be detrimental to the city and are imposing a moratorium on the business.

Great Falls residents have also noticed the debate. Recently, commissioners decided to impose a three-month ban on establishing medical marijuana businesses.

But, in the midst of the controversy, these businesses are booming with one stop shop clinics and individual caregivers.

We were given special access to a legal medical marijuana facility outside the Billings city limits.

"It's no different than any other business. There's money to be made in it and there's no denying it. Within the last six months, I've grown out of this and into a downtown bigger facility," Montana Advanced Caregivers owner Jason Smith said.

Mom and pop shops, like Montana Advanced Caregivers, are coming out of their closets and garages and headed to store-front locations. Just like their plants, they are growing. But, business owners say a store front doesn't come with a welcome mat for everyone.

"We're not open to the public, we are only open to our carded patients," Smith said.

Both owners stress, there is a science to growing marijuana and they work around the clock for their business. They say many might be surprised to know, that they follow strict regulations and they too pay fees, workman's compensation and liability insurance.

"When the checks are written at the end of the day, Jason and I aren't on them," Montana Advanced Caregiver Owner Rich Abromeit said.

At this point, they say the people cashing in on this business are the owners who lease to them and the local businesses they sub-contact to or eat at. The two say they believe in their product, their patients and eventually hope their small business will receive a payoff in the end.

"If you can eat, sleep breathe and work this business and produce quality medication, yes there's plenty of profit to be made, just like any other business," Abromeit said.

The cities of Billings, Whitefish, Roundup and Great Falls are still looking considering their options in drafting an ordinance regulation where medical marijuana business can be located.

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