HELENA — On Wednesday, the Montana Department of Revenue reported estimated figures, giving a full picture of the first year of legal recreational marijuana sales in the state.
The data shows $303,563,879 exchanged hands in combined recreational and medical marijuana transactions across the state in 2022. $202,947,328 of that came from adult-use sales, compared to $93,616,551 in medical marijuana.
In December, Revenue reported $25,653,688 in total sales – consistent with the monthly average throughout the year. But while the overall numbers haven’t changed as much, adult-use sales continue to take up a bigger share of the market – from 58% in January to almost 77% in December.
Pepper Petersen, president and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild, was one of the lead advocates in the successful 2020 campaign to legalize recreational marijuana. He says they expected $260 million to $280 million in total sales the first year, so the actual total was notably higher.
“That’s representative of about 40 tons of product in the system in Montana, and that’s all Montana-grown and Montana-processed and sold right here in state,” he said.
Petersen estimates the industry now supports about 5,000 jobs in Montana.
“It just shows that this market has been here,” he said. “I think that’s what we see, is that we’ve taken from the black market so much, and put it into the white market – the legitimate market, as it were, with licensed producers, a very safe product.”
The high sales numbers and shift from medical to adult-use sales also means more revenue for the state. During a meeting with lawmakers this week, Kristan Barbour, administrator of Revenue’s Cannabis Control Division, said $35,460,147 from cannabis taxes were in Montana’s general fund as of Dec. 27.
During this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers will consider potential updates to the laws on marijuana sales. One bill, House Bill 128, would make a number of tweaks, including extending a moratorium on new marijuana businesses for two more years. Currently, only providers that were operating in the medical marijuana system before the legalization vote in 2020 are allowed to make adult-use sales.
HB 128 also proposes changing the effective date of that moratorium, to allow some businesses that started after the 2020 election to begin selling recreational marijuana. That would be big news for people like Cindy Coleman, who owns Sean’s Way, a dispensary in Helena. It’s named after her son, who she says benefited from medical marijuana before his death from cancer.
Coleman says she started her business in 2017, gave it up for family reasons in 2019, and returned to it in 2020. However, she says she wasn’t able to complete the state requirements for licensing until Nov. 20 – several weeks after the legalization vote, so her business isn’t able to join the recreational market.
Coleman said it’s been a challenge to continue operating only for medical marijuana.
“$200 sales is a good day, and yet we have rent to pay and bills to pay,” she said.
She believes many potential medical customers are giving up medical marijuana cards because of the cost.
“I turn away at least ten people a day; I can’t help those people because they don’t have medical marijuana cards,” she said.
HB 128 was set for its first committee hearing next Tuesday, but that has been delayed. Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Fort Benton, the bill’s sponsor, said he expects it could be heard the following week.