Legal sales of recreational marijuana began in Montana with the new year on Saturday, less than 14 months after voters in the state legalized adult-use cannabis use and commerce.
Montana voters legalized the use of recreational marijuana and regulated sales of adult-use cannabis with the passage of Initiative 190 in the November 2020 general election, when 57% of the electorate voted in favor of the ballot measure. A companion measure to set the legal age to purchase cannabis in Montana at 21, Constitutional Initiative 118, was also passed by a margin of 58% to 42%.
Under Initiative 190, the use of recreational marijuana and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis became legal for adults 21 and older on January 1, 2021. But regulated sales of cannabis were delayed until January 1, 2022 by House Bill 701, legislation passed by lawmakers last year to implement the successful ballot measure. HB 701 also allows adults to cultivate up to two mature and two immature cannabis plants at home, with a cap of four mature plants per household.
Recreational marijuana products sold in Montana are subject to regulations under the legislation, including a 35% THC cap on cannabis flower. Edible products are limited to 100 mg of THC per package and a maximum serving size of 10 mg of THC. The Montana Department of Revenue is tasked with developing and regulating the state’s new recreational marijuana market and will be responsible for licensing adult-use cannabis cultivators, processors, distributors and retailers.
Brisk Start to Retail Cannabis Sales
In its first weekend, Montana’s recreational cannabis market pulled in $1,566,980 in sales. Chris Fanuzzi, founder and CEO of Lionheart Caregiving and Dispensaries, which currently operates five medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana, attests to the weekend’s success.
With 2022 already marking 15 years of cannabis cultivation, extraction, infusion and retail sales for the company, the onset of recreational marijuana sales in the state made New Year’s Day a particularly memorable occasion for Lionheart this year.
“I was extremely excited, indeed,” Fanuzzi told Cannabis Now. “It’s been super hectic, but there’s been a lot of activity. Lots of hustling, moving, shaking and getting things done.”
To protect Montana’s existing medical marijuana infrastructure, only dispensaries that were licensed before November 3, 2020 will be permitted to make retail sales of adult-use cannabis for a period of 18 months. Fanuzzi said that on the first day of recreational marijuana sales, Lionheart saw a mix of adult-use customers and medical marijuana patients, with approximately 30 cars parked at the company’s Billings location by 8:30 a.m. on January 1.
“There seemed to be a lot of new users,” Fanuzzi said. “Probably half and half. Most people were looking for flower and then concentrates, followed by edibles.”
According to Fanuzzi, Lionheart is already reaping the benefits of recreational marijuana legalization in Montana, including the ability to sell cannabis products to all adults 21 and older. The result is a much broader marketplace for the industry.
“It’s easier to do business not having such a small, restricted customer base,” Fanuzzi said. “One of the biggest pros is that more people have access to quality medicine that’s safe. That’s the biggest pro for everybody.”
Recreational Sales Only Allowed in ‘Green Counties’
But not all residents will have easy access to recreational marijuana, despite this week’s launch of legal adult-use cannabis in Montana. Under the terms of HB 701, cannabis possession and use are legal statewide. But retail sales of recreational marijuana are permitted only in those counties where a majority of voters supported the 2020 legalization initiative in the general election. As a result, Montana has 28 “green counties” where recreational marijuana sales are now allowed and 28 “red counties” with a ban on sales of adult-use cannabis.
Existing medical marijuana dispensaries located in red counties are protected by a grandfather clause in the legislation and will be allowed to continue operating. Recreational marijuana sales can be authorized in red counties with the passage of a countywide referendum to permit adult-use cannabis commerce.
Approximately 380 medical marijuana dispensaries were expected to begin serving adult-use customers with the launch of recreational marijuana sales, according to media reports. Leise Rosman, CEO of the new Betty’s Roadside Provisions in Big Sky, says that the company has been hard at work preparing for Montana’s new adult-use cannabis market, and plans are underway to open dispensaries in Bozeman, Butte and Livingston in the near future.
“We doubled down our efforts in the last two months to make sure it was perfect for opening day,” Rosman told Cannabis Now. “We figured on January 1, it might be a lot of people’s first time in a dispensary, so we wanted to make sure that first impression was right for them.”
Betty’s Roadside Provisions is a boutique dispensary where visitors can feel welcome and enjoy the shopping experience as much as the product itself.
“When we looked at creating a curated experience, we wanted to make sure all the years we spent working with other dispensaries and talking to customers all got into Betty’s stores,” said Rosman, whose family has been in the cannabis business for the better part of a decade.
“Cannabis isn’t behind glass or counters, or in the back,” she explained. “It’s an experience where we want you to touch and feel the product you are about to take home with you.”
Betty’s Big Sky location strategically appeals to the millions of tourists traveling to Montana each year.
“In Montana, the domestic population isn’t high, but the tourism effect is incredibly high,” Rosman said. “It felt like a great place to meet people where they are in an environment to unplug and recharge. Our product makes perfect sense for that.”