Chart: Montana medical marijuana patient counts skyrocket in revived program

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There weren’t any big expectations for Montana’s medical marijuana market when it was relaunched at the end of 2017, but patient numbers in the Big Sky state have skyrocketed and the state’s dispensaries are winners.

Patient numbers have nearly doubled since March 2017, when there were 12,890 registered patients in the state, to 25,725 in March 2018, according to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Not bad for a state with barely 1 million residents and a medical marijuana program that was nearly killed by a state Supreme Court ruling in 2016.

By August 31 of that year, all the state’s dispensaries were closed, and by December 2016, patient numbers had dwindled to 8,215.

What prompted the turnaround?

It started with the historic November 2016 elections when Montana voters approved a ballot initiative eliminating the three-patient limit mandated by the earlier court ruling.

That was followed in December 2017 by a ruling that the ballot initiative should go into effect immediately – which allowed previously shuttered dispensaries to reopen.

Not only did previously shuttered dispensaries reopen, their owners added storefronts, and some caregivers expanded their operations into full-fledged dispensaries.

The result? There were 120-150 dispensaries operating in the state as of February, according to some estimates.

What makes Montana’s patient and industry growth even more interesting is that it has occurred without formal regulations being in place.

But earlier this month, new rules went into effect that will likely be a costly headache for many of the nascent businesses and possibly even force some to shut down.

Montana voters first legalized MMJ through a ballot initiative in 2004. While the law didn’t establish a statewide dispensary program, some local municipalities do regulate these businesses.

The program reached its height – boasting more than 30,000 patients – in June 2011, just before the state Supreme Court’s critical decision.

Eli McVey can be reached at

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at