Montana voters first embraced MMJ reforms in 2004. The program experienced explosive popularity between 2009 and 2011, however, which prompted efforts from lawmakers to repeal and undo the program. Another successful voter initiative last November overruled lawmakers and renewed the program – this time with more detailed product tracking, a self-sustaining tax system, and a more extensive licensing system.

The Montana health department has issued temporary emergency rules for the state’s medical cannabis program. Parts of the program took effect as state regulators develop permanent regulations, which must be in place by April 30, 2018, the Billings Gazette reported.

The emergency rules, which expire in late October, include clarifications on how the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services will regulate cannabis testing laboratories and cannabis concentrates manufacturers during the transition period.

The emergency rules include allowing the health department to issue licenses to cannabis testing facilities on a temporary, case-by-case basis. This is so the facilities can begin to legally handle medical cannabis, though required testing doesn’t begin until 2018.

The state currently imposes a four percent sales tax on medical cannabis products, though this tax will be lowered to two percent starting July 1, 2018.

The legislature passed the new tax in April 2017, which is designated to state regulators for setting up a seed-to-sale tracking and lab testing system and conducting site and shop inspections – none of which was required under the state’s previous regime but lawmakers added the program safeguards after voters moved to effectively re-legalize medical cannabis use after the legislature decimated the original 2004 program.

In August dispensaries closed their doors in response to new restrictions limiting each storefront to three patients.

In December, there were just 8,125 registered medical cannabis patients. That number jumped to 9,666 in January and to 12,890 in March. Patient numbers have nearly doubled since March 2017 to 25,725 in March 2018, according to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

There are 547 medical cannabis providers currently registered with the state, but the program doesn’t differentiate between caregivers and dispensaries and it’s difficult to estimate how many actual dispensaries may have reopened. There were 120-150 dispensaries operating in the state as of February 2018, according to some estimates.

Within a few years, annual sales via dispensaries in Montana could hit $25 million-$35 million, according to initial estimates by Marijuana Business Daily.