Eager cannabis buyers in Montana braved freezing, snowy weather on Saturday to celebrate the new year by waiting in line for the launch of adult-use sales. And thankfully, despite previous concerns about supply at legal cannabis stores, dispensaries were able to meet demand.
Marijuana shops in half of Montana’s 56 counties, consisting of more than 80 percent of the state’s 1 million residents, began selling retail marijuana at the turn of midnight on Saturday. With thousands of customers filing in throughout the day, the stores were jam-packed around the clock.
“We’ve all been counting down to this,” said J.J. Thomas, owner of The Higher Standard dispensary in Missoula.
Thomas and Helena-based J.D. Petersen, owner of the Cannabis Corner dispensary and front man for the legalization campaign in 2020, told the Independent Record that over 90 percent of customers who shopped at their stores on Saturday bought recreational cannabis instead of medical product.
Possession and consumption of recreational cannabis in Montana has been allowed for over a year since voters passed Initiative 190 on the November 2020 ballot. But the final step in launching the program—retail sales—couldn’t begin until this year.
While the increase in customers is a sure thing, Montana operators are still trying to figure out whether to expect the same boom other states have seen in recent years. A state budget office projected adult-use will rake in $130 million in sales during the program’s first year, then jump to $195.5 million in 2023 after a 12-month moratorium on new cannabis licenses is removed.
About 58 percent of Montana voters approved adult-use nearly 14 months ago, but several interviewed customers Saturday still expressed concerns about the ongoing stigma against the plant.
Getting beyond the stigma
A cannabis buyer in Helena, who wished not to give his last name because many of his family members opposed legalization, told the Independent Record that undoing the stigma associated with nearly a century of federal prohibition will take decades to complete.
In the meantime, 28 mostly rural counties in Montana are being left out of the retail program after voters in those counties turned down Initiative 190. Known as red counties, they ban adult-use dispensaries from opening up shop. But per state law, residents of red counties are still permitted to travel to green counties to buy the plant, then legally bring it home to consume.