Yet another state with medical pot laws on the books is seeing its MMJ sector shrivel as the entire industry grapples with a federal crackdown, damaging court rulings, falling registered patient numbers and community backlash.
This time the contraction is taking place in Montana, where the number of registered patients has nose-dived and dozens of dispensaries have closed up shop, with the pace escalating in recent weeks.
The number of dispensaries and collectives has plunged to 383 from nearly 5,000 last spring, according to the Missoulian. At the same time, the number of registered patients has fallen by tens of thousands of patients over the past year as well.
What’s particularly worrisome in Montana is the shifting perceptions of the public. Residents initially were open to the idea of allowing patients with valid medical conditions to obtain marijuana to help ease their pain. But the rapid, some say uncontrolled, growth of the industry and the promotional tactics employed by dispensaries rubbed many the wrong way.
“At this time last year, just prior to the Legislature convening, there were many of us in the movement who were concerned with some of the brash and insensitive and arguably inappropriate commercial activities by some operators,” John Masterson, director the Montana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (known as NORML), told the Missoulian. “Our Montana culture was not ready to so suddenly have billboards and signage, and that provoked a response.”
Of course, the government raids have played a huge role as well. Many patients and dispensary owners simply decided that medical marijuana simply isn’t worth the risk.
This same trend is playing out in some other MMJ states as well, particularly California, which has been the focus of the federal government’s crackdown.
The developments are sure to weaken the already stumbling medical marijuana industry. The bright side, however, is that it seems states are doing a good job of “cleaning up” and reining in the industry overall, which could help in the long run. MMJ businesses that weather the storm could be in a much better position in the future, with less competition and a better sense of what’s acceptable – and legal – and what’s not. At the same time, efforts are moving forward in other states to enact medical marijuana laws, which could offset some of the industry’s recent contraction.