By Doug Hare EBS Staff

BIG SKY – Nine years ago, Philadelphia native Charlie Gaillard decided to move to Big Sky with the intention of opening a medical marijuana dispensary. With a little elbow grease and entrepreneurship, he started Lone Peak Caregivers in the units across from the Whitewater Inn. Five years ago, Gaillard moved into his current location in the Big Horn Shopping Center next to the Big Sky Community Food Bank. Three years ago, LPC expanded to open another dispensary in Ennis.

“We’ve really been growing year after year,” Gaillard said. “The reasoning behind the Westfork shop is to extend the service hours for patients that were unable to get to us because of work hours or other scheduling conflicts.”

Gaillard now employs nine full-time employees and at busier times of the year also has numerous part-time employees. By mid-November, he plans to have a new storefront in the Westfork Plaza open for business.

The current location will operate as usual—as an organic growing operation of over 65 strains of Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa, and also as a retail store featuring Montana-made products and art.

“We’re excited to provide patients with a convenient location with expanded hours,” said Sammy Weiffenbach, who will manage the new location. “It’s also another place where we can offer locals and tourists locally-sourced merchandise.”

Medical marijuana has been legal since the Montana Medical Marijuana Act was passed into law in 2004. This past summer, after more than a decade of having a medical marijuana program, the Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill 333, a law that increased regulations on the industry and levied a 4 percent gross sales tax for dispensaries—the first of its kind in the Montana medical marijuana industry.

According to the Department of Revenue, cannabis tax collections for the months of July, August and September totaled $380,000, from a reported $7.5 million in gross revenues, exceeding expectations. Notably, only 393 dispensaries of an estimated 610 licensed providers statewide have turned in their quarterly taxes, leading some to infer that the state’s yearly revenue from the newly implemented tax will easily exceed the estimated $1 million mark.

Early reports from Helena suggest that cannabis tax revenue is slated to fund a statewide marijuana seed-to-sale tracking program and other improvements to regulations on the industry. The cannabis tax is scheduled to decrease to 2 percent in July 2018 and remain at that level for the foreseeable future.

Gaillard is in favor of the new tax and thinks it’s a good way to fill up the state’s coffers. “I think we will see improvements to the industry directly from the revenue it provides.”

The Department of Health and Human Services reported a resurgence in enrollment in the medical marijuana program after the passage of more comprehensive regulatory measures last spring. In November 2016, there were 7,558 registered medical marijuana patients. According to data from the DHHS, that number more than doubled in less than a year, with 17,819 cardholders reported as of this July.