The Economics and the Emotions of Montana’s Medical Marijuana Ruling
I headed to one of Missoula’s largest medical marijuana providers today.
This store sells medical marijuana to patients with state-issued cards.
I got there around 11 AM and for the next hour I saw one person after another come through the doors.
Many had no idea of the Montana Supreme Court ruling yesterday that effectively killed Montana’s medical marijuana program.
I and the owners of this store explained the ruling to them, while also discussing what it means for patients, the impact of it for providers, and the overall economic and social impact for the state.
I’d like to discuss those things with you today so that we can get a better understanding of how yesterday’s decision affects Montana lives.
When I arrived there was a person getting his medicine as well as a woman waiting.The woman waiting has been a patient for years, has cancer, and looked quite frail.
She was close to tears as she got what she needed and then stayed a bit to talk.
“They don’t care one bit for us little people with cancer,” she said, close to tears, and hugging the store’s staff.
Both of the women that were working were on the verge of tears as well.
More scenes like that played out over the course of the next hour.
Most people coming in were older, in their 40s and 50s. Those that had heard of the ruling were in shock, not sure what they’d do.
Many complained about the ruling, the people in Helena, and the fact that the people’s will had been overridden.
There weren’t a lot of large purchases. Most people got small amounts, about a quarter ounce for $50 or so.
I was surprised by how many people were getting edibles like cookies and such. Another popular item were the vaporizing pens.
Both offer alternatives to those that don’t like to smoke marijuana. Both will not be offered on the black market.
That black market was discussed quite a bit, mainly from a negative standpoint.
People do not want to go back to it. They don’t want to go down some shady alley to get medicine, or call someone to come to their house.
They want to go to an established business that’s paying payroll taxes, paying rent, and paying a lot more.
The discussions with the business’s owner were especially revealing.
I was astounded to learn that this provider is paying $42,000 a month for power.
That means Northwestern Energy is making $504,000 a year from that guy…just in the electricity he needs to operate his business.
Sure, he’s growing pot, but that’s how you supply that to patients.
He estimates that there are 5 similarly-sized businesses, so Northwestern Energy is set to lose $2.5 million because of this ruling…and just on those large providers.
That’s the thing – you can’t expand our current 471 providers to the 4,546 that would be needed if every patient had a provider that only had three patients.
The provider I talked with figured it cost him $1,600 in power the first month he started up.
That’s not counting the administrative costs that the Montana Medical Marijuana Program requires you to go through.
Besides the paperwork fees there’s fingerprinting and a whole range of other stuff.
That all adds up. Expanding the number of providers just isn’t possible because of it.
We’re not even getting into the payroll taxes, rent, property taxes, and whatever else that business is putting into the local community.
I asked the two employees that work there and that aren’t providers, or at least don’t own the business.
One is a young woman that’s in her 20s. She just started so at least it won’t be a huge change if she has to get a new job.
The other woman is closer to her 30s and she’s been working there for a year or more. It isn’t her only job but it’s her main job.
She was pretty stressed out all morning, close to tears at times it looked like.
I suspect many around the state are the same way today.
A lot of talk was directed at what could be done about this.
So far, no one knows what’s going on.
As you’ll remember from yesterday, when I called the DPHHS agency in Helena they said they had to wait for their lawyers to review things.
At the local level, the owner of this shop had called the Sheriff’s Department. They referred him to the County Attorney.
The woman he talked with there hadn’t even heard of it yet.
So at the local level people do not know what to do. Because of that, stores remain open.
This owner called the governor’s office. The woman that he talked to said that the governor agrees with him that people should have their medicine.
So far, however, they don’t know what they’ll do.
The shop is giving a piece of paper to every person that comes in, telling them to call the governor:
The biggest hope is that something can be done, some kind of veto or stay or executive action.Perhaps letting the ten largest operations serve as providers was one idea.
Surely there must be a way to not enforce this, mainly because of the Catch-22 that says you can’t possibly supply if you can’t run a viable business.
Catering to 3 people is not a viable business no matter what your industry.
So there’s frustration there. The store says it will remain open until they’re told to close.
Patients asked what would happen after that.
There were a lot of shrugs, a lot of hands held up in ‘I dunno’ gestures, and a lot of talk saying you’ll have to go to the black market.
People were not happy to hear that.
Perhaps that will translate into political action.
The State Initiative to Legalize Marijuana in Montana
If you head on over to 420 406, the site to legalize marijuana in Montana, you’ll get all kinds of information on getting that initiative on the ballot.
Lots of people have signed up to gather signatures, and you can do the same.
The forms are all there, as well as advice on how to best gather signatures for the ballot.
I went ahead and left a comment on the About page asking how many signatures they’ll need in all the counties, specifically across the Hi-Line.
This is what I was told:
“I’m riding my bike across the hi-line collecting signatures in May. We need 10 percent of the registered voters in 40 districts for CI-115, and 5 percent in 40 on I-178. It’s all on the petition forms at 420406.org/documents.”
The main initiative is CI-115, which will effectively legalize marijuana in Montana.It needs 50,000 signatures and it cannot be altered by the Montana Legislature, as the 2004 law had happen in 2011.
It’s that 2011 alteration, and subsequent lawsuit by Attorney General Tim Fox that triggered yesterday’s ruling by the MT Supreme Court, that has led to the current crisis.
So getting those 50,000 signatures is critical. It’s the only way the anti-jobs Republicans in the legislature can be stopped.