More than a year after voters approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Montana, anyone over the age of 21 can go to a dispensary and buy cannabis. This worries medical marijuana user Joylynn Mane Wright.
Wright lives in Prairie County, the fifth least populous county in the state, with a population of about 1,100 people. She actually drives about 35 minutes to get to the marijuana dispensary closest to her home, which is two and a half hours northeast of Billings. Now she wonders how difficult it was for her to get hold of the cannabis she uses to relieve the chronic pain she experienced after spinal surgery in 2017.
“I’m really concerned about the supplies and the cost of that,” she said.
For Wright and nearly 55,000 other Montana residents who hold medical marijuana cards and use cannabis to treat cancer, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, central nervous system disorders, and other illnesses, the question is how recreational marijuana will affect their ability to access their medication.
Other states experienced shortages soon after recreational marijuana markets opened. In January 2020, when recreational marijuana became legal in Illinois, Some clinics have had to close their doors or impose restrictions on purchases. The same thing happened in Colorado And Washington When the entertainment market opened in those states.
Pepper Petersen, president and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild and Helena’s medical marijuana provider, said he’s been asking his patients to stock up because he thinks state dispensaries will run out of pot in the short term.
We will have a shortage of cannabis. Access will be an issue until supply can catch up with demand,” Petersen said. “How can we produce a product that is enough for thousands of new users in January? The answer is we can’t.”
In Wright’s case, she said, storage is not an option due to her steady income. She wonders how the pre-rolled joint, which now costs nearly $8, will go up in price, and whether she’ll have to drive much longer to get the drug.
Jared Moffat, campaign manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the state market typically takes six to 12 months to stabilize after recreational cannabis becomes legal. One reason marijuana markets are unstable is that possession and distribution of the drug remain illegal under federal law, so moving products across state lines is not an option to deal with shortages. Everything that is sold in a condition must grow in that condition.
Adding to the potential supply chain problem is that the state of Montana has restricted who can sell cannabis, at least initially. The legislation that framed the recreational marijuana market in Montana Giving existing dispensaries an early start for 18 months for new producersThis means that newly licensed sellers cannot enter the market until July 2023.
This leaves medical marijuana customers to compete with recreational users for a limited supply of cannabis.
About 80 dispensaries—only 18% of the 451 licensed dispensaries in Montana—plan to exclusively serve medical marijuana card holders, according to Czelsi Gómez, a spokesperson for the Montana Department of Revenue, which oversees the state’s marijuana programs. The rest plan to cater to both recreational and medical users or just leisure users.
Some states that have legalized recreational cannabis — including New Jersey and Illinois — have asked dispensaries to keep enough stock to ensure medical users can get what they need.
Montana has not established such a rule. But Gomez said only the 80 dispensaries that serve medical marijuana users will protect patients. “We believe that only medical institutions are the guarantee to ensure that medical marijuana is available to registered cardholders,” Gomez said.
Some dispensary owners said they would hold on to some of their supplies to ensure medical clients did not run out. But others said they were not planning to back off, arguing that it would be bad for business.
Barbie Turner, co-owner of Alternative ReLeaf, a dispensary with locations in Missoula, Paulson and Libby, said she was concerned about where medical users would get their cannabis. She said that if medical customer service required her to stop selling cannabis to recreational users, she would.
“It is not only our medical patients who need it, but the ones who founded this business. They are the ones who built the industry,” she said. “So I think we have a moral responsibility to look after them, just as they took care of us.”
It’s unclear how big the recreational marijuana market is. a Study University of Montana He cited 2017 and 2018 survey results that found that about 14% of adults in Montana said they had used cannabis in the previous month, compared to 9% of adults nationwide.
Petersen and others said that more people may become recreational users once cannabis products that can be smoked or ingested become easier to purchase.
Turner said she and her staff have been working for months to make sure they have enough marijuana but she remains concerned about supply. She said there are limits, both legally and financially, to how much a provider can grow.
She said stores will get some help when the state’s wholesale market opens in January, which means dispensaries will be able to sell to each other in bulk.
Although many dispensaries — particularly in college towns like Missoula and Bozeman — are preparing for shortages this month, Erin Polster said she believes the true test of marijuana supply will come in the summer, when millions of tourists visit Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.
Bolster owns Tamarack Cannabis in Flathead Valley, a popular tourist destination not far from Glacier National Park. Polster said last summer, long before dispensaries were selling recreational cannabis, she was getting one or two visits and two or three calls a day from tourists who heard that Montana had legalized adult marijuana and wanted to see if they could buy.
You think that in the summer, the number of customers will increase significantly. That could mean more competition for medical marijuana in Montana there and other popular destinations.
“We’ve been able to expand production,” Polster said. But the question is, ‘Have we expanded enough? ”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and survey, KHN is one of the three major drivers of KFF (Caesar Family Foundation). KFF is a non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.