Local dispensaries reflect on 15 months of legal weed
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
As Treasure State tokers celebrate 4/20, a cultural date observed by cannabis users, EBS spoke with local players in Montana’s young recreational marijuana industry.
Montana dispensaries have sold over $269 million of recreational marijuana since it became legal in January 2022. Call it dope, weed, pot, reefer, Mary Jane, devil’s lettuce—the crop has generated $53.9 million in state tax revenue in 15 months, and dispersing Montana’s pot of gold has become a topic of debate.
Big Sky has a handful of green plus signs. Herbaceous, Lone Peak Cannabis Company and Greener Pastures operate within a stone’s throw of each other in Westfork Meadows. Honey Sour is posted one mile east of the cluster, and Double Dogs sells beside U.S. Highway 191 near the Conoco. In January, three of the five shops located in Big Sky made Cannabis Now Magazine’s list of Montana’s best dispensaries.
Charlie Gaillard moved to Big Sky in 2010 and opened a medical-use dispensary called Lone Peak Caregivers. He was drawn to Big Sky by the excitement felt in the industry at that time. His business—now recreational and called Lone Peak Cannabis Company—has since expanded to Ennis, West Yellowstone, Bozeman, and soon, Billings.
The state voted in favor of Initiative 190 in November 2020, which legalized adult recreational use in Montana, effective January 2022. On that New Years Day, Gaillard broadened his business’ name and prepared for a higher volume of customers, leaning on a decade of experience.
Legalization also allowed businesses to trade plants and products with other Montana businesses. In the state’s medical-only era, everything had to be grown internally. Gaillard said the change helped LPC expand its volume and offerings, but the company still grows most of its product in a greenhouse beside U.S. Highway 191.
He’s proud that LPC can support between 20 and 25 members of the local workforce, and while he’s dealt with some turnover, Gaillard said LPC has been able to build a strong base team since business expanded into recreational sales.
“The biggest change is having more professional people on staff, from other industries that have other skillsets needed to operate in this industry. Everything has become magnified due to the recreational market,” Gaillard said.
According to the Montana Department of Revenue’s cannabis sales report website, March 2023 was the highest month in Montana’s short history of legal weed sales. With more than a $2 million uptick from February 2023, monthly adult-use sales broke $20 million for the first time. Gaillard said the industry has created considerable jobs in government and individual businesses.
Still, he assured EBS that lobbyist groups are fighting to shut down the recreational segment of Montana’s marijuana industry. Despite an established market that is proven and safe, Gaillard said, opponents are willing to decline tens of millions of dollars in annual state tax revenue.
“I will tell you that the biggest threat to the industry has been tabled or voted against, so I don’t think we’re in jeopardy at this point and time,” Gaillard said.
Westley Correa, co-founder of Bozeman-based Double Dogs Cannabis, said that legalization has come with pros and cons—mostly opposing viewpoints and perspectives. But he believes the public has spoken in favor of the drug.
Double Dogs entered the Big Sky community in the summer of 2022, taking over the dispensary previously operated by Betty’s Roadside Provisions beside U.S. Highway 191.
Local for now
Correa is more concerned about a shift in state policy set to occur in the coming months. Montana will begin allowing out-of-state funding to permeate Montana’s recreational space.
“I would really hope that Montana puts a cap on [dispensary] licenses,” he told EBS in a phone call, pointing to the liquor licensing model. “If we do it like that, it would help the people who built the foundation… to be able to maintain our growth in such a volatile market.”
Without limits, Correa is worried Montana’s market could become saturated quickly, pricing out small Montana-based businesses like his own.
He’s proud to share that Double Dogs uses no-till farming and is one of the few soil-based growers in Montana—he said most dispensaries use a salt-based growing technique.
“We don’t grow the most weed, we just grow good weed,” Correa said, speaking to the company’s motto of “quality over quantity.” He said it’s a “work hard, play hard kind of company” full of outdoor enthusiasts and their work allows them to keep that passion alive. Employees love taking shifts in Big Sky, too, for the outdoor activities and the chance to hang out with store manager Karina DeGidio.
“She’s amazing and makes it a fun place to work,” Correa said. “We don’t have to look for employees. The environment is conducive to a healthy workplace.”
In April 2020, Tanya Simonson opened Herbaceous in Westfork Meadows. Herbaceous planned to open in Big Sky in 2019, but Simonson had to pivot around a policy that prevented dispensaries from operating on the ground floor in Town Center.
She said Herbaceous is known for its slow cured, always-fresh flower. She’s proud that the business is family-owned, and that her Big Sky store contributes to the community by hanging work by local artists, participating in the softball league—the Herbaceous Smokey Bears reached the 2022 championship—and sponsoring events like the recent Big Sky Shootout.
Simonson, her brother and his wife founded Herbaceous in Butte in 2017. They still grow in Butte, but since the recreational market opened, Simonson began ordering wholesale to keep up with demand.
“It was a lot of learning how to adapt,” Simonson told EBS in a phone call. “We weren’t sure what was going to happen after Jan. 1. We knew it was going to be busy, but it ended up being beyond our expectation. I think we did a pretty good job—we managed to get enough people working for us.”
Since recreational sales began, Simonson expanded her Big Sky team from one co-worker to six or seven. She said most of her bud-tenders work part-time, and the shop is usually busy enough to require two on shift.
Simonson looked into taking loans to invest in employee housing, but because marijuana remains federally illegal, she was stopped. Given Big Sky’s staffing challenges, she’s glad the Herbaceous team has been consistent.
Simonson added her concern about the pivot to allow out-of-state funding. She told EBS that a lot of small businesses might not make it, and that Big Sky could see any number of new dispensaries open.
“They gave us two years,” Simonson said, referring to the Montana Department of Revenue. “Everything we grow [and] sell, has to be made here. That ends at the end of 2023.”