Montana Cannabis Industry Slip-Sliding Away as Marijuana Businesses, Patient Numbers Dip Again

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The rapid erosion of Montana’s medical marijuana industry has continued into the new year, with the number of registered cannabis patients tumbling another 11% in January from the previous month.

According to the latest data from the Montana medical marijuana registry, 15,984 residents held medical marijuana cards at the end of January compared with 18,012 in December. The number of patients has declined nearly 50% since hitting a high of 30,036 in June of last year.

Why the precipitous drop? Chalk it up to the passage of a more restrictive MMJ law last year and the federal government’s recent raids targeting cannabis dispensaries around the state, which created a culture of fear and anxiety.

While the actual number of MMJ businesses forced to close as a result of the raids was low, the ripple effects have been significant.

Many medical cannabis professionals operating legally under state laws decided to close rather than face the very real possibility of armed agents showing up at the front door. Some owners and employees of the raided dispensaries were recently given jail time and steep fines, and others are awaiting sentencing. That’s further spooked dispensary owners, exacerbating the industry’s erosion.

Those same fears have spread to the patient population. Although the federal government has steered clear of targeting registered marijuana patients in its crackdown, many MMJ users have decided not to renew their cards.

The one bright spot from the latest data: The number of providers associated with a registered patient inched up to 417 in January from 395 in December. That could signal the beginning of a slowdown in the decline and eventual stabilization.

But don’t expect a recovery any time soon. It’s unlikely Montana will reach the peak patient and dispensary numbers of last summer until the federal government changes its stance on medical marijuana.

Here are some other interesting stats from Montana’s patient registry (as of January):

– The average age of registered patients is 43.

– 25% are between 51 and 60 years old, while 22% are between 21 and 30 years old

– 0.11% are minors under 18 years old, while 1.2% are between 71 and 80

– 83 MMJ providers serve just one patient each

– 64 providers serve 11 to 20 patients, while 34 have 21 to 30 patients

– 10,255 patients have MMJ cards because of severe or chronic pain

– 1,764 cite severe or chronic pain and muscle spasms