Patient count for Montana’s medical cannabis program is continuously climbing

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Montana’s medical cannabis program is going from strength-to-strength. In January, year-over-year patient count growth was revealed by program officials. Acknowledged as one of the biggest per-capita markets in the nation, the state’s program is experiencing a surge of registration applications from patients.

Since the inception of Montana’s medical cannabis market in December 2017, an increasing number of patients have been enrolling to receive plant-based medicines. During January of 2020, almost 39,000 patients registered to receive pharmaceutical-grade cannabis treatments; the registered rate of 3.6 percent makes Montana the third-highest program in terms of nationwide patient enrolment.

2016 elections led to swift development of Montana’s medical cannabis industry

The speedy growth of Montana’s medical cannabis market is deeply rooted in the U.S. elections that took place in November 2016. It was during this time that voters in Montana approved a ballot initiative to eradicate a rather restrictive three-patient limit. Just over a year later, in December 2017, lawmakers ruled that the ballot initiative should be effectuated instantly. When this happened, dispensaries that had previously been forced to shut-up shop were granted the opportunity to reopen and begin serving patients in Montana.

Although the patient growth rate for Montana’s medical cannabis program is desirable, some industry players are concerned about the potentially negative repercussions that may arise when a new series of rules are effectuated later this year. An untethering rule must be implemented before July 1; a rule that will enable patients to gain greater access to the legal market. 

While some say that this could be a sink-or-swim moment for the state’s small-scale dispensaries, it is likely to result in increased sales that will benefit the state as a whole. Moreover, industry experts say that potential new legislation will put Montana’s medical cannabis regulatory scheme in better alignment with various other programs that have been launched across the U.S. 

Montana has one of the the highest national rates of dispensaries per-capita 

Not only does Montana boast some of the most impressive patient enrolment figures in the U.S. but also, the state is home to the highest number of dispensaries on a per-capita basis — 372. As a fast-paced industry that is undergoing exponential growth, state regulators are now focusing on providing proper oversight and management for Montana’s medical cannabis program. 

In May 2019, a number of changes were made to the state’s medical cannabis program; following the passing of Senate Bill 265. Those amendments were as follows:

  • Banishing a rule that required patients to purchase their medicine from a single dispensary (“untethering”). Regulators must confirm that the state’s official seed-to-sale tracking system Metrc can adequately monitor patient purchase limits before the law can be effectuated.
  • Increasing the medical cannabis tax rate from two percent to four percent. This rule was effectuated on October 1, 2019.
  • Implementing a cap of five ounces on the quantity of usable cannabis that registered patients can purchase each month; the amount that can be purchased during a single transaction is set at one ounce. 
  • Introducing amendments related to compliance, including updates to product labeling and packaging standards.

If – at the end of this year – lawmakers decide to approve one of the two rival ballot initiatives for adult-use cannabis in Montana, the market will evolve further. Should the Secretary of State office approve these measures, signatures must be collected and submitted by mid-June for adult-use cannabis initiatives to be featured on the 2020 ballot.