Over the past month or two you've probably seen the recreational marijuana ballot initiative signature gatherers around Billings. Maybe you even stopped to sign the papers. Public opinion polls indicate many Montanan's favor decriminalizing responsible recreational marijuana use for adults, with a UM poll last year showing 51% are in favor (as reported by NBC Montana). The group behind the ballot initiatives, New Approach Montana, has received all the signatures necessary to get the issue on the ballot this fall.

The signature gatherers are gone, but there remains some controversy regarding the initiatives. Some of the opposition regarding recreational marijuana legalization is coming from a surprising source... the Montana medical marijuana industry. I reached out to Joe "Clams" Caldwell, owner of Urban Farmer Boutique Cannabis, a dispensary in Missoula to find out why.

Joe has been in the medical marijuana business for three years, and like most dispensary owners in the state, he knows first-hand the constantly changing hoops they must jump through to meet the state's requirements. He's one of the few medical marijuana providers that support New Approach Montana's ballot initiatives. Joe estimated 8 out of 10 dispensaries in the state oppose the current recreational use initiative(s) and he said the reason is "100% greed and fear."

The consensus among most Montana dispensaries is that the proposed laws will cut into their business. They are afraid of competition Joe said, and many of those opposed are spreading the idea that the bills are bad because they are funded by out-of-state money. This idea is ridiculous. You could compare it to Town Pump (a Montana based company) being upset when Holiday Station Stores (a Minnesota based company) moved into the state. Obviously, this scenario isn't completely the same because you don't need a card from the state of Montana to buy gas. But... you get the idea. Joe added that out-of-state companies have already moved into Montana, citing two dispensaries in the Bozeman area.

The other issue opponents of the recreational bill are talking about in the medical cannabis industry is the 20% tax rate. Caldwell said that the proposed tax on recreational cannabis is actually one of the lower rates among all states that have legalized. Some states have a 30% (or more) tax rate on their products.

Joe said that while the legislation proposed by New Approach Montana may not be ideal, he welcomes recreational legalization with open arms. There are currently around 30,000 medical use card-holders in Montana and should legalization become reality, the potential customer base for cannabis products could be as high as 400,000 adult residents. That doesn't include tourist purchases. Caldwell believes that competition in the industry is a good thing and added that all medical marijuana dispensaries will have one year to become recreational sellers, should they choose to do so. Urban Farmer plans to open a location in Billings next year.

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