Over a year has passed since voters in Montana made it the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana. On Saturday, they’ll finally see the fruits of their labor when adult-use sales launch to begin the new year.
The days leading up to legal sales have encouraged cultivators and producers to ramp up their output to meet an expected surge in demand. Just about all of the other states to venture into adult-use have seen hundreds of people lining up outside dispensaries, leading to massive sales increases up to five-fold the medical-only tallies.
But each market — especially California — has also seen its share of regulatory and black market issues, both of which Montana officials said they’re keeping an eye out for.
A new regulatory structure for adult-use in Montana allows cannabis companies to be horizontally integrated, meaning owners of a dispensary can also own production and cultivation facilities separately from the dispensaries. That capability, industry advocates say, will allow companies with the means to expand to be more efficient and offer lower prices for consumers. Lower prices on dispensary products mean legal cannabis stores can compete with the black market and steer customers away from buying the plant off the streets.
While an 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.
But J.D. Petersen, head of the Montana Cannabis Guild, told the Associated Press he is not optimistic that providers will be able to meet demand. The medical industry was designed to produce only the quantity that cardholders consumed, and Petersen thinks the industry needs more time to ramp up for the expanded market.
Considering the millions of annual Montana tourists that are now eligible to buy the plant, supply-and-demand is difficult to accurately predict, Petersen said.