Current Issues

Untethering

May 28, 2020

Cardholders Will Be Untethered June 2, 2020.

Since the beginning of the medical marijuana program in 2004, medical marijuana cardholders have been required to identify on their paperwork with the state who they would purchase their medical cannabis from.

In SB 265 during the 2019 legislative session, a provision was passed to allow cardholders to purchase from any licensed medical marijuana provider in Montana. This provision will go into effect June 2, 2020. The MTCIA supported this provision and recognizes the need for cardholders to be able to freely sort the market for quality and service and products that meet their individual needs.

Many cardholders who have had only one or two providers over any significant amount of time will learn the range of quality that is available and discover the combination of products from different sources that best serve them. Members of the MTCIA actively advocated for and successfully forwarded policy to create a competitive market, driven by safety, quality and service. Untethering is the critical step in making the customer the leader in determining the make-up of the medical cannabis market in Montana.

The ability of the customer to “find” providers is seriously curtailed by the state’s advertising ban. Visibility and word of mouth will become significant determinants of a providers’ ability to compete. Learn more about untethering by visiting one of our members.

 

Legalization

May 28, 2020

New Approach Montana is a project of the national Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). In 2019, Montana became a target state for passing an adult-use citizens’ initiative during the 2020 election. Campaign professionals from Montana pitched MMP seeking to secure the contract to run the campaign.

Though by no means a grassroots project, New Approach provides the citizens of Montana an opportunity to weigh in on adult use.

The MTCIA has not taken a position on the initiatives. Our providers aim to serve the will of the people and the market the citizens of Montana determine they want with the highest standards of quality and service. The MTCIA respects that most voters are voting in terms of whether or not they want access to adult-use cannabis in Montana or based on an interest in increased tax revenue or recognize the need for criminal justice reform and are less concerned about the nuts and bolts of regulation. That said, the MTCIA works at the policy level and must consider these nuts and bolts issues.  

The MTCIA provided extensive technical assistance on the basic infrastructure of the medical program in Montana and provided analysis of provisions brought in by those bringing money to table. In our estimation, the final product and a last minute change made to the draft (a “poison pill”) undermined what we hoped would be a fair competition environment that optimizes the market for quality and service. Further, it is likely the medical market will not survive. 

That said, there are two very important provisions in the initiative.

  1. The initiative allows for courts to resentence persons who are currently serving sentences for acts that are permitted under legalization of adult use of cannabis. The initiative authorizes the court to “redesignate or expunge those offenses from the criminal records of persons who have completed their sentences…” Further, it states that a person currently serving a sentence for an act that is permitted under the adult use law may petition for an expungement of the conviction or resentencing. This is not “automatic expungement” as it has been mischaracterized on social media. But it creates the availability of a process for expungement for marijuana offenses. 
  2. Though not a specific provision in the initiative, an adult use model will allow those on probation to access cannabis. Currently, in Montana, probationers are not permitted to use medical marijuana. An adult use allowance will enable those probationers who would benefit medically from cannabis to gain access through the “rec” market.

If the initiative is successful, the requirements to sell medical marijuana will be considerably stricter than those to sell in the more lucrative recreational, adult use market, thereby disincentivizing selling cannabis to the medical user. Creating two separate regulatory agencies, one for medical and one for adult use, will further discourage selling cannabis to the medical market as meeting the regulatory requirements of one state agency is harrowing enough.

The campaign has suggested that the problems created for medical users can be resolved in the 2021 legislature, if the initiative is to pass. However, the legalization campaign itself does not provide any funding for remedying these problems which will require comprehensive legislation. Between the five year lawsuit and 2016 citizens’ initiative, the MTCIA and supporters have spent a million dollars over the past 10 years protecting medical marijuana access in Montana. There is no guarantee that there are enough resources in Montana to support an effort to restructure the medical program in order to save it and deal with the onset of a new market model at the same time.  Further, there are never guarantees about what the state legislature may or may not do. 

So, the peril to the medical marijuana program is real. 

In response to the question as to whether legalizing adult use hurts those who purchase cannabis to treat medical conditions, the answer in the short run, at least, is probably yes. It seems common that in the aftermath of legalization, there are negative impacts on those who use cannabis therapeutically which usually have to do with access, or reliable access to particular products. If the 2021 legislature takes on comprehensive legislation to assure the medical program is as easy to operate in as the adult use program, these issues are likely to resolve within six months to a year. In some states, the problems medical programs encounter when full legalization occurs are sometimes resolved by medical users being absorbed into the adult use market. In some states, this appears to work satisfactorily. In other states, less so.  

The other “nuts and bolts” concern in the initiative is a provision added into the final draft of the initiative that has to do with the wholesaling ratio. The MTCIA advocated for a 70/30 model in order to allow the market to evolve so that the best products and providers remain in the Montana market. Colorado used the 70/30 ratio as they introduced wholesaling into their market. It gives time for specialization to arise based on market preferences. It creates a fair competition environment as it supports all size businesses and allows the capacity for all size businesses to grow. 

What 70/30 refers to is how much a given business can wholesale to another business (30%) and how much they can carry of other businesses’ products (30%). 

New Approach instead allowed for a 50/50 model which creates a completely different market dynamic. It is detrimental to all but the largest providers. It alters the terms of competition away from quality and service and towards the ability to create volume and “crash” prices.

There is a difference between consolidation occurring as customers sort a safe, properly regulated market for quality and service and consolidation that results from provisions in the law that have no functional purpose or relationship to quality or safety but are simply crafted advantages for particular operators. Consolidation by creating advantages for the largest hurts the Montana adult use market in the long run. Several MTCIA members will benefit from the provision. However, as an organization, the MTCIA believes it is important not only to assure a market of quality products and  a high level of service at each business, but also creating a state market that collectively is someday recognized, nationally, as  exceptional.  Accelerated consolidation slanted to benefit the largest hurts the collective quality and character of the Montana market. 

People will vote their interests and concerns, as they should.  Win or lose, the MTCIA and those who have been on the ground in Montana for fifteen years working to build a high quality market will continue the work of creating a market Montana can be proud of. 

 

A 420 Greeting During the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 20, 2020

April 20, “420,” has been a day of celebration and recognition of marijuana for nearly 50 years. On 420 in 2020, the cannabis industry faces challenges as do all industries in these times of COVID19. Medical marijuana in Montana has been deemed an essential service. Cardholders purchase more per visit in the aim of leaving their homes as seldomly as possible. Sheltering-in-place creates stress which often escalates health conditions which results in an increase in consumption.

Dispensaries are accepting orders and offering curbside service. They are taking increased sanitation precautions and adhering by social distancing guidelines. Though medical marijuana sales in MT did spike with the pandemic, they are leveling and expected to dip if the crisis continues and people remain out of work.  

Like other businesses, medical marijuana providers are impacted by supply shortages. Gloves, face masks, cleaning supplies. Staples like sugar and flour for edibles have at times been unavailable at markets. Supply lines for packaging stumble. The workforce faces challenges, too. Some workers choose to stay home to reduce risks to vulnerable family members. With schools closed, some face childcare issues. Though not eligible for federal assistance, many providers continue to pay workers who must quarantine or face other obstacles to work attendance.

This 420 2020, we are in this together. The MTCIA aims to make this a safe holiday as we serve with safety and dignity those in Montana who benefit from the therapeutic use of medical marijuana.