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What new bill means for Montana medical marijuana dispensaries

Posted at 4:40 PM, May 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-19 18:40:15-04

BILLINGS – When Montana’s medical marijuana program first debuted in 2004 it, unfortunately, had some difficulties.

With the passing of Senate Bill 333 back in 2017 and the current passing of Senate Bill 265, there have been a lot of revisions to the program that tackle different elements; the most notable change being the untethering of patients from only having one caregiver while placing a five ounce limit on the amount of marijuana patients can buy each month.

“It’s kind of just the wild west,” said Ryder Gerberding, owner of Medicine Creek Caregivers. “Everybody was advertising where they wanted to, doing whatever they wanted to, with absolutely no oversight.”

“The state will have a system set up of all the providers who are in their tracking system and you can choose whichever one you want to go to, so that will give patients the freedom if they’re traveling to go somewhere else,” said Montana Advanced Caregivers CFO Jean Lucas.

For patients now being allowed to shop at multiple dispensaries, what does that mean for competition in the industry?

It will allow providers to focus much more on their niche. For example, if a provider is excellent at making edibles, but their flowers don’t grow very well, this will allow them to focus their attention much more on perfecting just edibles.

Medical Marijuana
(MTN News photo)

In 2018, the total sales in the medical marijuana program reached $45 million; with the tax being raised back to 4 percent to fund the program, where exactly is the excess revenue going?

“As the bill is written now, everything that exceeds above and beyond, that is going to go into alternative pain management resources, so you know, helping with this opioid epidemic that’s going on everywhere. Just educating people that not only cannabis is out there. There are a lot of other holistic methods to elevate yourself,” said Gerberding.

One aspect that hasn’t changed is the restrictions on advertising, which prohibits the industry from advertising in any medium including electronic, something that providers do not necessarily agree with.

“Liquor stores are allowed to advertise, tobacco and liquor companies are allowed to advertise. So what makes cannabis any different?” said Gerberding.

“I find it odd that our business is one of the few where we’re not allowed to do that. Any other business can advertise,” said Lucas.

“Now the one thing we can do as providers is to create a website. It’s not allowed to have any sort of pricing on them, any sort of availability, any bit about what we do – just the business that we are,” said Gerberding.

With the laws changing and the industry continuing to grow, what do providers hope for the future and how do they feel about the change?

“One big thing I want to see is providers working more with each other and it being a lot less cutthroat,” said Gerberding.

“I think it’s a positive move,” said Lucas. “There’s going to be drawbacks to any laws that change but overall I think we’re moving in the right direction in Montana to help our patients.”

-Marcus Boyer reporting for MTN News