Business Booming for Montana’s Medical Marijuana

January 12, 2010 – The recession may be sinking the state’s economy and tax revenues, but Montana has one new industry that’s on a high on medical marijuana.

“We’re putting people to work with no stimulus money,” Jim Gingery of Bozeman said proudly on Monday.

Gingery, who wore a suit and tie, is executive director of the 3-month-old trade association, the Montana Medical Growers’ Association. He also owns Mary Jane’s Kitchen, which bakes marijuana in cookies and muffins.

On Monday the trade group hosted its first public event at the Emerson Cultural Center n the Medical Marijuana Education Seminar. It brought in expert speakers on everything from Montana law to the science of using marijuana as medicine.

The purpose, Gingery said, was to educate anyone who grows medical marijuana, including patients and “caregivers,” or growers, to make sure they understand the law, follow the law, stay out of trouble and deliver good quality, safe “product.”

The association, formed last October, is seeking to deliver a message to doctors, law enforcement officers and the public that medical marijuana is a respectable, law-abiding industry. And its leaders hope to lobby the next Legislature.

“It’s a huge industry n everybody is laying off except for us,” said Robert Sims of Bozeman, community educator for the association.

“Right now there are over 500 to 700 new businesses started in this state,” Gingery said.

He based that estimate on the state Department of Health and Human Services’ list of 1,500 licensed medical marijuana caregivers, serving some 5,500 licensed patients. If roughly 1,000 caregivers are husband-and-wife teams n growing marijuana for personal use because one of them suffers from cancer or chronic pain n then that means about 500 are growing marijuana as a commercial business.

Montana voters passed an initiative legalizing marijuana for medical use in 2004. But growers kept their operations small and out of sight until the Obama administration announced last year that the federal government wouldn’t prosecute people following their state’s laws.

“It no longer has to be underground, in the basement,” Sims said.

Montana’s industry in the past few months has “exploded,” they said.

The industry includes suppliers of indoor greenhouse gear, electrical suppliers who can set up elaborate lighting systems for plants, and welding suppliers of carbon dioxide, which helps greenhouse plants grow bigger faster.

Sponsors of Monday’s event included General Distributing, Curt Electric, Comfort Systems, First West Insurance, Montana Botanical Analysis, Planet Natural, Grow Green and Green Gaia Medicinals.

Montana’s medical marijuana industry differs from California’s in a significant way, Gingery said. In California, once a patient gets a doctor’s OK, the “open dispensary” system lets anybody buy anything from any supplier, which makes it easy to abuse for people who just want to get high for fun.

“California’s a mess,” Sims said.

In Montana, a patient who gets a medical marijuana license can buy legally from only one “caregiver,” whose name is printed on the back of his or her state license.

Every patient can grow six plants on their own. And for every patient, a Montana caregiver can legally grow six plants.

A caregiver with hundreds of patients can make big bucks. But it’s also an expensive business, with high costs for grow lights, nutrients, water, electricity, staff and security. It’s a labor-intensive business that takes six months to get plants to maturity, and then growers have to worry about things like mites, diseases and thieves.

Chris Lindsey, a Helena attorney and founding board member of the Montana Medical Growers’ Association, warned the 35 people listening to his lecture Monday, “Don’t treat medical use like a joke or a front n it’s what people still expect of us.”

Lindsey, a licensed caregiver, said he has more than 250 patients and 11 employees.

“It is booming,” Lindsey said of the business. “But on the flip side, I don’t know anybody making any money yet. We’re pouring money into infrastructure and facilities.”

Lindsey said he got into medical marijuana when he was suffering from Crohn’s disease. Several doctors recommended marijuana, but they wouldn’t sign the paperwork to let him try it.

“They didn’t want to get in trouble,” Lindsey said. “I became an activist.”

By Gail Schontzler. Source.

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