In Montana, an Economic Boon Faces Repeal Effort
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In Montana, an Economic Boon Faces Repeal Effort
Posted by CN Staff on March 05, 2011 at 07:56:01 PT
By Kirk Johnson
Source: New York Times
Bozeman, Mont. -- With his electrician’s tool belt and company logo cap, Rick Schmidt looks every bit the small-business owner he in fact is. That he often reeks of marijuana these days ... well, it is just part of the job, he said. “I went on a service call the other day — walked in and a guy said to me, ‘What have you been smoking?’ ” said Mr. Schmidt, 39. For Gallatin Electric, a six-employee company founded by Mr. Schmidt’s father, Richard, as for other businesses in this corner of south-central Montana, medical marijuana has been central to surviving hard times as the construction industry and the second-home market collapsed.
Not the smoking of it, the growing of it or even the selling of it, but the fully legal, taxable revenues being collected from the industry’s new, emerging class of entrepreneurs. Three of the four electricians on staff at Gallatin, Mr. Schmidt said, are there only because of the work building indoor marijuana factories. Questions about who really benefits from medical marijuana are now gripping Montana. In the Legislature, a resurgent Republican majority elected last fall is leading a drive to repeal the six-year-old voter-approved statute permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes, which opponents argue is promoting recreational use and crime. If repeal forces succeed — the House last month voted strongly for repeal, and the Senate is now considering it — Montana would be the first to recant among the 15 states and the District of Columbia that have such laws. In Bozeman, a college and tourism town north of Yellowstone National Park, construction jobs and tax collections dried up just as the marijuana business was blossoming; residents and politicians here say the interconnection of economics and legal drugs would be much more complicated to undo. Economic ripples or entanglements extend in every direction, business people like the Schmidts say — gardening supply companies where marijuana growers are buying equipment, mainstream bakeries that are contracting for pot-laced pastries and even the state’s biggest utility, NorthWestern Energy, which is seeing a surge in electricity use by the new factories. Medical marijuana, measured by numbers of patients, has roughly quadrupled in Montana in the last year. “It’s new territory we’re treading in here,” said Brad Van Wert, a sales associate at Independent Power Systems, a Bozeman company that completed its first solar installation last month — a six-kilowatt rooftop solar array, costing about $40,000 — for a medical marijuana provider called Sensible Alternatives. Mr. Van Wert said that his company was assertively going after this new market, and that marijuana entrepreneurs, facing big tax bills, were responding to the appeal of a 30 percent tax credit offered by the state for expansion of renewable energy. The Bozeman City Council passed regulations last year sharply restricting the numbers of storefront suppliers downtown. But growers and providers say that even though the regulations restricted their numbers, they also created a climate of legitimacy that has made other businesses more comfortable in dealing with them for equipment and supplies. And unlike the situation in sunny California or Colorado, where medical marijuana has similarly surged, growing marijuana indoors is all but mandatory here, a fact that has compounded the capital expenditures for startups and spread the economic benefits around further still. An industry group formed by marijuana growers estimates that they spend $12 million annually around the state, and that 1,400 jobs were created mostly in the last year in a state of only 975,000 people. “Twenty-five thousand dollars a month,” one new grower and medical marijuana provider, Rob Dobrowski, said of his outlay for electricity alone, mainly for his light-intensive grow operation that supplies four stores around the state. Mr. Dobrowski was a construction contractor until the recession hit, as were two of his brothers who have joined him in the business. He said he now employs 33 people, from a standing start of zero a year ago. Bozeman’s mayor, Jeff Krauss, a Republican, said he thought there was an element of economic fairness to be considered in the debate about medical marijuana’s future. “I don’t think anybody passed it thinking we were creating an industry,” Mr. Krauss said, referring to the 2004 voter referendum. But like it or not, he said, it has become one, and legal investments in the millions of dollars have been made. “Somewhere around 25 people have made anywhere from a $60,000 to a $100,000 bet on this industry,” Mr. Krauss said, referring to the local startups and their capital costs. “Now the Legislature has got us saying, ‘Ha, too bad, you lose,’ ” Mr. Krauss added. “Boy is that a bad message to send when we’re in the doldrums.” One owner of a gardening supply company in the Bozeman area estimated that a person could essentially buy a job for $15,000, beginning a small growing operation with 100 plants. Especially for construction trade workers who were used to being self-employed before the recession, the owner said, the rhythms of the new industry feel familiar. “Forty to 50 percent of customers come from construction,” said the owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because her national suppliers threatened to stop doing business with her if their products were openly associated with marijuana. “Plumbers, electricians, the whole genre of working-class, blue-collar Montana.” There are shadowy corners in the supposedly compassionate world of medical marijuana. The owner of one downtown pastry shop, where the sale of marijuana cookies and brownies accounts for about 15 percent of revenue, said he broke off a relationship with his first marijuana provider, who wanted the baker to use less marijuana in the products and falsify the ingredients to save the grower production costs. And it is easy to find workers in this new economy who were in the illegal pot world before. But it is also easy to find people like Josh Werle, 29, who took a job as a grower at a company called A Kinder Caregiver after work as a commercial painter dried up. Mr. Werle, a fourth-generation Montanan, said his family had seen many industries fade and fail over the decades — from railroads to agriculture, and now, in his case, construction. He said he had also worried about his health as a painter, breathing fumes all day. But the economy is what finally pushed him out. Other new workers say a major appeal of medical marijuana is that, unlike so much else in Montana’s economy, including tourism, traditional agriculture and construction, there is no off-season or lean time. “I never envisioned myself working in this,” said Tara Gregorich, 29, who graduated last May from Montana State University, in Bozeman, with a degree in environmental horticultural science. She sat under the lights in an industrial grow room, legs splayed around a plant that she was trimming lower shoots from to encourage growth. “But this is one of the few industries in Montana that is year-round.” At Gallatin Electric, Rick Schmidt said he still made a sharp distinction between medical marijuana and street drugs. Illegal drug dealers, he said, “should have the book thrown at them.” But he thinks medical use probably does have benefits. Mr. Schmidt said his father-in-law, who suffers from post-polio syndrome, was considering applying for a medical marijuana card. A version of this article appeared in print on March 6, 2011, on page A13 of the National edition.Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Kirk JohnsonPublished: March 6, 2011Copyright: 2011 The New York Times CompanyContact: letters nytimes.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives
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Comment #5 posted by josephlacerenza on March 09, 2011 at 04:50:58 PT:
Going to the Capitol!!!
Going to Helena on Friday!!! Montana Biotech is making the maiden voyage of its NEW mobile laboratory!! We will be there to make our voice heard about repeal!!! Come and check out the lab, see the people, make your voice heard. Need a ride from Bozeman? Take a ride on the Montana Biotech mobile lab!!! Call Joe at (406) 600-6871 for a spot on the R.V.!!E-Mail From M.P.P.
MT: Senate repeal hearing on March 11 — Fill your cars and come to Helena!Ask your senator to support an amended S.B. 154 insteadDear Joseph:Montana patients need your support. On Friday, March 11 at 8:00 a.m. in Room 303 of the Capitol Building, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on H.B. 161, medical marijuana repeal. Although the House recently passed H.B. 161, 63-27, we are much more hopeful that the Senate will do the right thing. In order to make that happen, we need a huge show of support at the hearing. Please attend to demonstrate that many Montanans care about protecting and preserving the rights of Montana medical marijuana patients. Remember to dress professionally and act respectfully.You can also show your support by e-mailing and calling your senators, urging them to vote against repeal.Also, the Senate Judiciary Committee met in February to consider S.B. 154, which would regulate the medical marijuana provider supply system. The content of these regulations is still uncertain, but the committee will likely be using S.B. 154 and other ideas to develop its own regulation bill. Please tell your senator to amend S.B. 154 and pass tight, reasonable regulations for the medical marijuana industry.Again, please fill your cars with as many patients, advocates, and friends as possible, and get to Helena on March 11!Sincerely,Noah Mamber signature (master)Noah Mamber
Legislative Analyst
Marijuana Policy Project
A Montana Botanical Analysis Lab located in Bozeman
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Comment #4 posted by John Tyler on March 06, 2011 at 19:57:24 PT
regular folks
Regular folks are starting to make a living from the cannabis industry. The Repug would be fools to try to stop that. If the regular folks lose their new jobs because of some stupid Repug prohibitionists attitude they will get the blame for the job loss, and I am sure the unemployed regular folks will be glad to return the favor come the next election. 
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Comment #3 posted by RevRayGreen on March 06, 2011 at 14:04:41 PT
Green Central Revelation - Show #28 3/5/11
SPECIAL GUEST IOWA MEDICAL MARIJUANA PATIENT - Lynnice Wedewer, PhD; Has been a legal cannabis user for 30 years now. She is one of the original 5 children that the Iowa 1979 marijuana bill was written for and was written to protect these same five children for life. The original study opened in June- July 1980- 1981."Today you will learn things about me you may not have known. I find it important to speak out as this is of great importance to me.The outcome of that study was as follows. Two of them died using the pill form for cannabis. I know the other boy and I lived due to this prescription. I am unsure though if he is still alive today." - Lynnice
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Comment #2 posted by Sam Adams on March 06, 2011 at 08:21:28 PT
great article
wow, great to see the NY Times focusing on the economic issue which is always a huge win for seems easier for the mainstream media to focus on progressive issues when they're far away. The NY Times is thinking, look, poor Montana needs economic help. of course we here in NYC have our hedge funds so we don't have to lower ourselves to deal with the medical problems of the underclasses.
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Comment #1 posted by josephlacerenza on March 05, 2011 at 10:25:01 PT
Montana Biotech a Botanical Analysis Lab
The Repugs in the Senate do not have the votes for repeal!!! It was nothing more than a big stick to convince the industry to accept stricter regulations, nothing more than a scare tactic!!The MMJ community will live on in Montana!
Montana Biotech, Botanical Analysis Specialists in Bozeman
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