recreational marijuana

Sienna Riley, left, makes a purchase at Bighorn Buds dispensary in Bozeman on the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in Montana on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

Customers flocked to dispensaries around Bozeman on New Year’s Day to purchase recreational cannabis legally for the first time in the state of Montana.

Darian Gregory, owner of Bighorn Buds, predicted that Saturday would be busy, but he didn’t know exactly what to expect. Throughout the morning, a steady stream of customers cycled through the shop to buy its organically produced and solventless cannabis products.

recreational marijuana

ABOVE: Matt Mallory, a budtender at Bighorn Buds dispensary in Bozeman, seals up a bag of cannabis flower after weighing a customer’s order on the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in Montana on Saturday, Jan. 1. BELOW: Mallory grabs a handful of cannabis flower to weigh for a customer.

Members of Gregory’s team checked IDs, then customers gave their orders. Staff at the shop made sure all products were correctly labeled and packaged in brown bags before exchanging them for cash only.

Beginning Saturday, licensed providers could sell recreational cannabis flower and cannabis products legally to adults 21 and over in the state, though legalization of sales still varies from county to county.

Adult-use recreational sales are still prohibited in counties where a majority of voters opposed the November 2020 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use of cannabis. Beaverhead, Broadwater, Meagher, Sweet Grass and Stillwater counties are among them.

In Gallatin, Madison, Jefferson, Silver Bow, Carbon and Park counties, recreational cannabis sales are now legal for adults 21 and up. Park County opted to implement a 3 percent local excise tax on those sales. That’s on top of the 20 percent statewide tax on all retail sales.

Prior to Saturday, Gregory and his small team spent much of their time cultivating and packaging products so they could comply with state regulations and keep up with recreational sales.

“It’s still a cash-only business. Make sure you have your IDs or your medical cards,” he said. “It’s the law, so we want to follow the law to the T. Hopefully everybody else does, too.”

recreational marijuana

Customers wait their turn at Bighorn Buds dispensary in Bozeman on the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in Montana on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

recreational marijuana

Matt Mallory, a budtender at Bighorn Buds dispensary in Bozeman, grabs a handful of cannabis flower to weigh for a customer on the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in Montana on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

Sienna Riley, a customer who stopped by Bighorn Buds on Saturday, said she is excited that the long process of legalization has finally come through, and local dispensaries are getting their shot.

Two summers ago, Riley collected signatures for the group Legalize Montana to advocate for Ballot Initiative 190, which sought to legalize recreational use of cannabis the state.

“The biggest hurdle has just been convincing the government that it’s a good idea,” she said. “I feel like most Montanans either support it or don’t think the government should have a say.”

Any adult over 21 can legally buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, up to eight grams of concentrate or up to 800 mg of THC in edible form.

It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis, and it is illegal to consume it in public. Consumption of cannabis is still illegal on federal lands and waters, like national parks and national forests.

recreational marijuana

Darian Gregory, owner of Bighorn Buds dispensary in Bozeman, talks about the effects of a particular strain of cannabis to customers on the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in Montana on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

Josh Allen, a customer who stopped by Bighorn Buds on Saturday, said it’s a relief to purchase cannabis legally, and it’s nice to not have to worry about going through loopholes. Legalization has come a sooner in Montana than many states, but it takes time for people to adapt, he said.

“It’s tough to say that marijuana is a bad thing. I don’t feel there are any repercussions,” said Allen, who is a contractor from Bozeman. “A guy can relax a little bit and not have to worry so much.”

Adam Ryder, co-owner of Juniper Cannabis, said that preparing for Saturday has taken lots of effort from his staff. They’ve been ramping up cultivation, packaging lots of products, cleaning, organizing, coordinating with the state and hiring employees, he said.

Prior to Saturday, Gregory and his small team spent much of their time cultivating and packaging products so they could comply with state regulations and keep up with recreational sales.

“We built out and opened a new dispensary just south of Belgrade recently,” he said. “That opened just last week, in fact.”

recreational marijuana

Matt Mallory, left, a budtender at Bighorn Buds dispensary in Bozeman, and Darian Gregory, owner of the dispensary, work on customer orders during the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in Montana on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

recreational marijuana

Customers enter Bighorn Buds dispensary in Bozeman on the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in Montana on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

Five people waited in line at the dispensary’s Downtown Bozeman location at noon — about an hour after the shop opened. Ten minutes later, the number of eager customers more than doubled.

Ryder said that time will tell, but the Montana Department of Revenue so far has done a good job of clearly identifying what dispensaries need to do to stay in compliance while switching to the recreational market. That said, it has released a lot of last-minute rules.

“We’re really excited to be able to serve the Bozeman community and have people come in who are 21 and up,” Ryder said. “Everyone’s physiology is a little different, so we just tell people to be really careful and mindful of how they approach it, especially with edibles.”

Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.