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Marijuana demand ‘exceeded expectations’ for Big Sky dispensary owners

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Tanya Simonson, co-owner of Big Sky dispensary Herbaceous, helps a customer at her West Fork location. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER

Dispensaries cope with supply concerns as business blooms

By Bella Butler

BIG SKY – The floodgates opened on Jan. 1 for recreational marijuana sales and Big Sky’s three dispensaries are celebrating success while planning for the future of an exploding industry.

State shops raked in a collective total of more than $1.5 million on opening weekend of recreational sales according to reporting by the Missoulian, adding more than $313,000 in tax revenue to state coffers. Big Sky dispensary owners said nearly two weeks in, demand from recreational customers has been greater than anticipated, putting their businesses in the same boat as others statewide now concerned over supply.

“I just was shocked at the number of people that were coming into the store,” said Charlie Gaillard, owner of Big Sky dispensary LPC.

Tanya Simonson, co-owner of Herbaceous, and Shine Miller, manager of Greener Pastures, each described lines out the door on Jan. 1. Simonson said on opening day her shop hosted around 150 people and has continued to bring in closer to 80 customers per day since. She added that these customers can’t be summed up in one archetype; they range from construction workers in their 20s to retirees in their 70s.

“It’s been busier than we expected,” she said. “Right now we’re just trying to balance the amount of demand that we’ve got with product.”

The medical marijuana market in Montana up until 2022 was vertically integrated, meaning dispensaries could only sell products that they grew and produced. Legislation permitting recreational sales allows the market to integrate horizontally, so dispensaries can now purchase wholesale products from other growers and producers.

Gaillard said LPC, which has locations in West Yellowstone, Bozeman and Ennis in addition to Big Sky, has already brought in products from another producer to his shelves to help with supply concerns and plans to introduce more brands to his stores soon.

Herbaceous, which has another store in Butte near its farm, currently only sells Herbaceous products, but Simonson said building partnerships with other producers and growers to bolster her supply isn’t out of the question.

“If it continues to be as busy as it has been,” she said, “I believe that we will have to buy from other people.”

Simonson added that she’s still unsure if this solution will be sufficient. Montana House Bill 701, the legislation establishing the framework for the new industry, gave existing producers 18 months to operate before new licenses can be issued. On top of that, recreational marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, meaning product can’t be sourced from outside the state.

“We’re not sure if there is going to be enough because I feel like the demand is pretty high,” she said.

Miller said Greener Pastures, which has additional locations in Bozeman and Missoula, will continue to exclusively sell its own products but will add a growing operation in Logan to support its current facility in Bozeman.

The three dispensaries in Big Sky all operated as medical marijuana dispensaries prior to Jan. 1. Simonson and Gaillard estimated that since the start of the year, more than 80 percent of their business serves recreational customers with the remainder being medical patients. Miller similarly estimated the split at Greener Pastures is roughly 75 percent recreational and 25 percent medical.

At Greener Pastures, recreational and medical marijuana is displayed separately. The dispensary’s manager, Shine Miller, said maintaining stock for medical patients is a priority for Greener Pastures. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER

Montana Free Press recently reported a story about medical users’ concerns that the blow recreational users have delivered to state supply will negatively impact availability to the state’s approximately 55,000 medical marijuana cardholders.

“We did have a lot of [medical patients] stock up prior to January 1 I think just for that reason,” Simonson said, though she’s hopeful it won’t become an issue.

Gaillard said he doesn’t think medical cardholders will have issues sourcing products, though since recreational customers are a bigger piece of the market, medical products will still be there but may be available in lesser quantities at LPC moving forward.

Inside Greener Pastures, medical and recreational products are displayed in different cases. Miller explained this separation has two purposes. First, recreational edible products are statutorily limited to 100 milligrams of THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, whereas the limit does not apply to medical products. Second, the shop intends to ensure that product is reserved for medical patients.

“It’s a prescription and it’s a medical card so they are a priority for us,” Miller said. “We started out as a medical company and we had medical patients and we want to keep them happy.”

On Jan. 12 in Herbaceous, most customers saddled up to the counter with both products for purchase and questions: What’s the tax? How much can I buy?

Simonson said many recreational customers are still riding a learning curve, but so are dispensaries, and for good reason; the 153-page House Bill 701 is extensive, covering everything from cultivation and sales to licensing and transportation.

“We’re just trying to figure it out day to day,” she said.

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