There are now less than six months until Montana’s first legal recreational marijuana sales – set to begin on Jan. 1, 2022. That has both marijuana providers and state regulators hurrying to get ready for the major change.
Thomas Swanson, manager of Collective Elevation Helena, said he’s been thinking about how to make the transition from medical sales to adult-use sales since voters approved Initiative 190 last November. He said the state has been reforming marijuana laws every two years, so providers have gotten used to change.
“With this industry, you have to adapt or die,” he said. “You have to keep swimming.”
After weeks of debate, the Montana Legislature passed House Bill 701, which completely overhauls the recreational marijuana framework that had been set up in I-190. It allows medical marijuana providers that were operating before Nov. 3, 2020 to start selling to all adults 21 and over on Jan. 1 – but only if they are in one of the 28 counties where most voters supported the legalization measure. Once those providers’ licenses come up for renewal, they will have to get a new adult-use license for recreational sales.
For the first 18 months – through July 1, 2023 – only existing medical providers will be able to join the recreational market. Montana currently has just over 400 registered medical marijuana dispensaries, with the vast majority of those being in counties that approved I-190.
Under I-190, the first licensing for recreational sales would have started Oct. 1. Swanson said he’s satisfied with that date being pushed back.
“The initial date ramped us up a little bit,” he said. “Now that we have a little bit more time to prepare, we feel pretty comfortable with moving forward.”
The biggest change for dispensaries will be opening up to a much bigger market.